McVey and The Telegraph vs EDI and The Woke

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There is, ostensibly, a workplace culture war raging within Whitehall and beyond. If you (I wouldn’t recommend it) find yourself scrolling to the extreme ends of the social media vitriol it appears there are two camps:

  • at one extreme anti-woke traditionalists who, in the name of common sense, would remove all equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives from workplaces regardless of any ongoing inequity….
  • at the other, politically correct ideologues, pandering to snowflakes and in thrall to EDI initiatives regardless of their efficacy. 

The huge irony of this embattled polarisation (around a concept grounded in respect for others’ differences) would be almost amusing were it not for the obvious potential for harm to real individuals in real workplaces. But then again, if we remove the political posturing, and maybe this is naïve, are the two sides here as far apart as they seem? There may be a few simple, constructive questions that unlock a mutually acceptable way forward. Most employers are seeking sustainability, productivity, growth...something like that. If we focus on that goal and pause to unpick the (apparent) EDI war, the common sense craved by one camp might just lead you to the equity, diversity and inclusion (in the true sense of those terms) desired by the other.

Unpicking the issues - five common sense questions for business leaders:

  • The existential: The workplace is changing at an unprecedented pace. What range of ideas, problem spotting and solving skills, and talents will you need to survive (thrive if possible)? Who will you need to employ in order for your business to be productive, profitable, future-proof? Will a homogenous group of like-minded people with similar views, styles and approaches really do the trick?
  • The logistical: Where will you find the people you need? Across what range of demographics will you locate top talent – the people with the variety of competencies most likely to drive your success? Will they all come from the same type of place and have the same experiences? Or will a diverse range of experiences, skillsets, ages, perspectives, socio-economic backgrounds, etc. serve you?
  • The pragmatic: How will you get those people to join you (and stay)? What will the people you’ve identified be looking to see from you as a potential employer? (Note: top talent can choose where to work and statistics suggests diversity is a determining factor for younger job seekers).
  • The practical: What conditions do you need to offer your talent for them to deliver to the best of their potential (for you)? (This one is key). What will they expect from you, their colleagues, their working arrangements and set up? What type of culture will they be looking for? If you’ve got a range of different talent they’ll likely be after different things… Will you choose to adapt to the needs of the diverse talent you have?
  • The obvious: What happens next if someone feels undervalued or uncomfortable? …If they are excluded or unable to perform because of the conditions they are required to work in? (ie if there is not equity and inclusion)? What happens to productivity? To your culture? To the health and wellbeing of your people? What’s your risk? Legal, human, business…


Most of the leaders we work with have long since recognized that the question is not “woke” or “anti-woke”(a word which has been widely co-opted and misappropriated) – but simply how do we attract and retain top talent and create a culture which enables that talent to deliver on our organisational goals? Industry regulators (like the FCA and SRA) increasingly recognise that the human stuff is key to culture(and are regulating for it) – not because EDI is an end itself, but because it delivers better outcomes. It doesn’t happen automatically (and it’s not what’s happening in many businesses at the moment). Leaders get to choose whether to implement initiatives to try to achieve it. If the language of EDI is triggering for some, we don’t need to call it that. Perhaps go for "maximising your people’s potential.”

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