This is, generally, a blog about the world of work, employee engagement, organisational culture, that kind of malarkey. This time, though, I wanted to get a bit political, a bit philosophical, expand my horizons and parameters, and comment on wider issues. Bear with me.
The media has been much exercised recently by the activities of Mr Nigel Farage and his merry band of xenophobes, and said coverage has vexed me and, in my humble, dragged the political debate in a very unpleasant and dangerous direction.
Now, I’m not an economist, indeed, I am very much a subscriber to the opinion that if you took all the economists in the world and lined them up they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion. But it does seem, from my limited knowledge, that most of the arguments put forward by opponents of UKIP for staying with the EU and promoting free movement of labour within it, and supporting the benefits of immigration, are generally based on sound economic facts and practice. Take this article, for example, which was written by someone altogether better qualified than I to put forward facts and the like.
The arguments on the other side – stop immigration, leave the EU seems to build down to “I don’t like Johnny Foreigner, and I definitely don’t like being old what to do by him”.
In my experience of the world of work, which I have set myself as an expert on, I haver always found that diversity is a strength – certainly in teams. I have also found that organisations that serve communities (and all of them, really, do) fare far better when their own demographic make-up reflects that of those communities they serve. One only has to look at a brief history of policing in London (or Manchester, or pretty much anywhere in the UK) to get a sense of the truth of that, but I found it was also the case for selling insurance, for example.
Why is this? Again, reflecting on my own experience, its to do with empathy, and its importance in developing relationships.
One time I was in charge of the employee survey for and organisation. Among the many pieces of insight I gathered from hours slaving over dusty spreadsheets was that transgender colleagues were significantly less engaged than other colleagues. Now I am the least diverse person going – white, male, middle class, educated, married with two children, and was, at the time, in a team, incidentally, that was also very lacking in diversity. Of a dozen people, 11 were women, white, agreed between 28ish and 42ish, straight. There was little insight from within the team as to why transgender people were less engaged.
We did, however, within the organisation have a very active and switched on LBGT group, so I took my insight to them, to see if they could shed any light. They had no reports of bullying or discrimination from this group, but they did reach out and get some further insight to share with the diversity team. As I recall, there wasn’t a specific single issue, but the very act of reaching out, listening, and acting did make a difference to people.
The organisation won awards from gay rights groups as an employer of choice, and that made us in HR feel very good about ourselves. That was until a colleague was applying for a mortgage with his civil partner and discovered that the form had no box to tick for civl partnership – meaning he couldn’t progress with his application. We got the form changed, but that wasn’t the point – part of the organisation won awards for its stand on LGBT rights but another just didn’t even consider the needs of that group when putting a simple form together. Turned out that the department which won the awards had a demographic profile closer to the community it was serving than the one that failed to put the civil partnership option on the mortgage form; there was the empathy needed to serve that community properly, that the less diverse part of the organisation lacked.
My point, I guess, is that diversity is a strength, it is an asset, and that works for teams, businesses and countries.
I often challenge people who say multiculturalism has failed, or is a bad idea, to join me for lunch at the market food court in Manchester’s Arndale Centre – it is a panoply of great food from around the world, featuring the finest veggie burritos I have ever tasted served by a man who will not accept your custom if you can’t pronounce “chipotle” correctly. Next to them, a Vietnamese street food store, across from them Polish sausages and drinks, alongside a Cypriot stall with kebabs, salads and mezes, around the corner there’s even a real ale bar for Mr Farage to get a pint – though I’ll have a nice Eastern European imported pilsner, myself, thank you.
Isolationism will also be bad for the world of work; even that bastion of left wing thought the CBI is warning that if the UK leaves the EU, then many major businesses will in turn leave the UK in order to stay in the single market. Not good news for the world of work in the UK, and, believe me, it is extremely difficult to engage employees if you have to let them all go because your office is moving to Frankfurt or your factory to Spain.
So, have a think. Reflect on the current debate. Is your business doing well? if so, is this despite immigration and the EU, or because of it? If it’s doing badly, same question. I doubt the answer will be so one dimensional, and thus it is for the benefits and ills of our society; this is not a single issue nation; our problems cannot be solved by a single solution any more than our successes can be more widely shared. To say so is disingenuous at best, and, to be frank, bloody stupid.