Opinion: Diversity is important and vital, without which, equity and inclusion cannot be possible

Gilroy’s viewpoint: The Diversity, Inclusion, Equity Paradigm: Diversity is important and vital, without which, equity and inclusion cannot be possible

The Beano has diversified. On its 85th birthday, the comic has transformed to become more representative of modern Britain. Characters Fatty and Spotty of the Bash Street Kids are out. In come new faces including Harsha, Mandi and Khadija. Mike Stirling, the director of mischief, told The Sunday Times: “This is about being awake to things. What would be easy to do would be to keep The Beano the way it had always been forever.” The comic is marking the 85th anniversary with various guest appearances including Stormzy, who was voted the most popular by its readers. Just like many other organisations in this country, The Beano is recognising that the make-up of its audience is changing, so is adjusting its proposition to better reflect and connect with its readers.

In many ways, this is a microcosm of our changing culture. The Beano was first published in 1938, just before the second world war. Despite winning the war, by 1951 the country was striving to recover; impoverished and exhausted. A sepia-infused world, remaining militarised and suffering critical shortages of food and consumer goods. Highly industrialised, urbanised, seriously polluted and operating on a social system largely based on Victorian values.

The population totalled around 50 million and was overwhelmingly indigenous. The 1951 census shows that only 3% of the population had been born overseas and a great majority of the immigrants were white and European. The 1948 British Nationality Act had confirmed unrestricted entry to Commonwealth citizens. The first post-war immigrants from Jamaica arrived in Britain, onboard the Empire Windrush, but there were still fewer than 140,000 people of colour across the country.

In 1951, far fewer women were in paid employment than today. They were generally not expected to have proper careers, but to seek short-term employment before they married and had children. After the war, many young women gave up paid work and raised a family at home. Public attitudes towards sex and marriage remained strongly conservative. There was virtually no formal sex education, either for children or for adults. Any form of homosexuality was illegal and those whose sexual behaviour deviated from the heterosexual norm had to adopt a low profile for fear of legal prosecution or social persecution.

Class divisions were clearly reflected in how people dressed, as well as how they spoke. Working men tended to wear caps and clothes for manual labour, while middle-class men were distinguished by their white collars, suits and hats. Class divisions were also apparent in the educational system and not just in the divide between state schools (which taught the great majority) and private schools (which catered for a wealthy minority). The 1944 Education Act had created a binary system of secondary education at ‘11 plus’. Most children went to secondary modern schools, which they left at the age of 15 with few or no qualifications. Those who went to grammar schools stayed on a little longer and got qualifications, but few went on to higher education. Only a small proportion of young people went to university and most were middle-class males who had often been privately educated.

Towards the end of the ’50s, Britain was becoming more affluent and changing rapidly in every area. Ground-breaking legislation further accelerated the transition to a more diverse and tolerant society. The Electoral Law Act in 1968 made voting rights for all men and women equal regardless of gender or class. The Sexual Offences Act 1967 partially legalised homosexual acts between consenting participants. The country was transitioning from sepia to Technicolor and the seeds were sown for the multi-cultural diverse society that we recognise today.

Read more: Gilroy’s viewpoint: If wholesalers fail to innovate, there’s a huge risk they will be going backwards 

The latest 2021 census shows the religious make-up of the nation to be more diverse than ever, with fewer than half of people describing themselves as Christian and over 300,000 households as multi-faith. The Muslim Council of Britain says that the figures show that society is capable of “togetherness”.

We are all aware that our industry serves a highly diverse customer base. The majority of small stores are owned and run by various ethnic groups. The hospitality industry offers cuisines originating from all over the world. Not only that, it is now fusing those offerings to create new and exciting dishes unique to Britain and taking them to new settings. Street food and box parks, for example. Thanks to the highly successful influx of Ugandan Asians in 1972, cities such as Leicester have been transformed. The arguments for greater diversity are strong: a variety of experiences enhancing of problem solving, better cross-learning, a larger talent pool from which to recruit and a better understanding of customers. A workforce that reflects back the customer profile facilitates authentic customer relationships. I have seen a lot of this in action in my personal experience in wholesale. And the industry is making positive strides forward in diversity with initiatives such as the FWD’s Diversity in Wholesale and its Standards and Dignity Charter.

However, Robert J Ely in his Harvard Business Review research paper ‘Getting Serious About Diversity’ cautions that increasing diversity does not in itself increase effectiveness. What matters is how an organisation harnesses diversity and whether it is willing to reshape its power structure. This is underlined on the FWD website, where it states that women account for 47% of people working in wholesale, but only an estimated 17% are senior managers and directors. Ely is clear that companies will not reap the benefits from diversity unless they build a culture that insists on equality. Look no further than the music industry.

Growing up in the ’60s, I listened to British groups such as the Rolling Stones and Cream adopting and developing black American blues music. Also, the Motown groups of both genders. The ’70s for me in south London was a rich mix of Caribbean all-night parties, reggae and funk. The likes of Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder – intoxicating for me from a totally white background. Music is all-encompassing, inclusive and has the power to unite. Diversity in music comes naturally and makes for adventurous, exciting sounds. The industry has also led on gay rights and the fight against Aids. Notably the Elton John Aids Foundation.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) favours inclusion in the diversity, inclusion and equality framework: “While there has been recognisable progress in diversity in recent decades, a focus on increasing diversity alone falls short of tackling the systemic challenges around workplace equality, personal bias or exclusionary culture. Hiring a diverse workforce doesn’t guarantee that every employee has the same experience or opportunities in the workplace.” Their report ‘Building Inclusive Workplaces’ highlights the complexity and also the challenges facing businesses around diversity and inclusivity.

The CIPD opines that people are fundamental to business success, and creating an environment where everyone can meaningfully contribute simply makes sense. Indeed, some research supports the idea that inclusion is linked to creativity, knowledge-sharing and reduced absenteeism. But this study highlights that research into inclusion is less well-established than research into diversity. Inclusion is a complex concept that interacts with diversity and equity – both issues that extend beyond the workplace.

Social mobility, education and socialisation all contribute to structural and power inequalities in societies. Organisations and employees have much to gain from being more inclusive. Creating a positive environment where everyone can influence, share knowledge and have their perspective valued is key for employee satisfaction, retention and well-being. And, crucially, being inclusive allows different perspectives to be heard, irrespective of the nature of that difference.

Diversity is important and vital. Without which, equity and inclusion cannot be possible. Our industry is headed in the right direction and probably ahead of others, but there is still much to do.


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David Gilroy is the founder and managing director of Store Excel. He was previously the convenience retail lead at W2 Commercial and held operations director roles at Bestway Wholesale and Nurdin & Peacock.


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