Cohesion Collective Featured in Brainstorm Magazine

Building a business beyond bias

Why diversity and inclusion matter in the digital economy.

We live in a world that’s interconnected. Globalisation and technology are rapidly changing how workplaces are structured and our offices have become multicultural melting pots.

According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group, diversity is also integral to business success. The 2018 study, which looked at 1 700 companies across eight countries, found that more diverse businesses have 19% higher revenue. What’s more, this revenue can be pinpointed to one key area: innovation.

Diversity is much more than race and gender, but the intersection of race and gender with so many other diversity dimensions. While race and gender dominate diversity and inclusion discourse, given that historically these have been used most obviously to exclude, how these two intersect with other dimensions to create an inequality of experience is an important discussion to have,” says Roy Gluckman.

Gluckman runs Cohesion Collective, an equality, diversity and inclusion consulting and training firm in Johannesburg. Its goal? To teach the world how to create more human and inclusive organisations as well as unpacking the irritation, fear and anxiety that people hold coming into the conversation.

“Businesses don’t need to focus on diversity in South Africa. We have it coming out of our ears,” adds Gluckman. “Businesses need to focus on inclusion. How we put that diversity together in a way that makes sense. Diversity is simple; inclusion is difficult,” he adds.

The changing workplace

While many corporates struggle with the idea of inclusion, both SAP and Microsoft are challenging diversity with innovative programmes that bring potential employees on the spectrum into the workplace, a resource pool of differently-abled people who are often excluded.

“How do we address the massive skills shortage we keep hearing about? I don’t believe it’s there. Technology is changing so fast, we need to ramp up quickly, but also look for talent differently,” says Brigette McInnis-Day, COO for SAP SuccessFactors. “It’s about differentiating talent for the best solutions. It’s about how you see talent, how you see bias and how you break that down every day.”

Many people on the spectrum are sitting at home with their families, struggling to find work. Some even have post-graduate degrees and most have IQ levels above average. For SAP, it’s not necessarily about giving back to the community, but rather about adding value. Over a century ago, the workforce looked very different. Women, people of colour and even LGBT communities were excluded from jobs. Today, the benefits of building an inclusive business without bias is undeniable.

“If you’ve ever been the person who stands out, you know how hard it is, whether you’re female, a person of colour, or someone who is on the autism spectrum,” says McInnis- Day. “ Different people offer different solutions, which is why you need to be the most innovative company you can be and tap into every kind of talent.”

For Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, there was a lot of data that showed where the company was missing out – and it wanted to change the paradigm.

“People with disabilities are a strength and a force of nature,” says Lay-Flurrie. “ If you look at the unemployment statistics for disabilities, they’re criminal, they’re double the rate for those without disabilities and that means there’s a lot of talent out there that’s not in the workforce.”

Companies like Microsoft and SAP may be changing the face of workplace through diversity and inclusion, but they’re not alone – Oracle, Accenture, Merck and Nestlé are all leading the way to becoming more accessible locally, according to the Thomson Reuters Diversity and Inclusion Index.

Diversity is not just a metric to be strived for, it’s something that corporates of every size – especially those where innovation is a key growth factor – need to focus on.

Teaching blind kids to code

Expanding diversity beyond race and gender is a big focus area for tech companies, but Microsoft’s approach to diversity and inclusion has also ventured from programming to product design. The company created Code Jumper, an educational toy to teach children who are blind (or visually impaired) computing coding and programming skills. Microsoft found that many of the technology options for those who can’t see require assistive technology – like screen readers – but kids need something they can feel. Code Jumper is a physical programming language – it’s tactile, durable and comprises of modular, physical pieces you can string together to create code. The skills learned in Code Jumper translate into real-world coding opportunities, opening up the path for STEM careers later on in life.

How do businesses thrive?

Today’s workplaces mirror the sociocultural dynamics at play in our lives outside work, which means understanding an employee’s needs can be tricky. The more diverse a company, the harder it is for human resources to pinpoint what matters and what’s missing. SAP’s Thrive XM index is a new diagnostic tool launched to help companies understand their workforce better. Instead of simply seeing job descriptions and performance, it looks at well-being from a holistic point of view. How does life experience impact job performance?

Where are there inclusion gaps? Thrive XM, says SAP SuccessFactors CMO Kirsten Allegri Williams, is about creating meaningful experiences in a modern workplace that celebrates business performance along with people’s experience.

“It’s about really understanding what is happening in an employee’s life, both inside and outside of work, and what are the best programmes, processes and investments we should be making to our most valuable asset – human capital,” says Williams.