Amin Rajan: Diversity is good for business

From the Royal Society of Arts lecture by the chief executive of Create

Over the past two years, we at the Centre for Research in Employment and Technology in Europe (Create) have been involved in a research study on how to promote creativity in today's workplace. This involved interviews with around 80 business and community leaders. A concern the majority of them identified was diversity. The point they made was a simple one: I need people with a richness of styles, not more of the same. In other words: I need diversity in all senses in my workforce. Diversity covered personal identity defined by gender, ethnicity, age, disability, religion and sexual orientation.

It reminds me of my own experiences when I first arrived in Britain some four decades ago. After going to night school for three years, and gaining the right qualifications, I entered the civil service as the first non-white executive officer: a grandiose title, until I discovered the discrimination that went with it. I was assigned to the office of the deputy permanent secretary at the Board of Trade as his personal assistant. For three days, my boss went through my office before he disappeared into what he described as his inner sanctuary. Not once did he acknowledge me or even my presence.

On the fourth day, he asked me to go and see him. All he said was: "Your achievements mean little here. In this place, if you want to succeed, you've got to be twice as good as a white boy." Undoubtedly, Britain is a fairer place now than back in the 1960s, but I doubt if there is anyone in this room who believes that we, as a society, have overcome the scourge of discrimination.

My plea is simple. Diversity is not a fad or a new religion that is here today, gone tomorrow. We are at the dawn of an exciting phenomenon; one that is sustainable because it makes business sense.

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