Do we really care about diversity, or do we just say we do?

Happy diverse people holding casino icons

Do we really care about diversity, or do we just say we do?

Do we really care about diversity, or do we just say we do?

This is a blog born of frustration – I apologise in advance if this shows. Diversity has burst onto the corporate world as one of the key themes of 2018. Indeed, it is a key theme at this week’s GambleAware conference, which shows how topical and how important the subject has become across stakeholder groups in our sector as well as more broadly. This is a good thing, in my view. But is it in danger of becoming a fashionable bandwagon more about PR and virtue signaling than about the desire for real and broadly based change? 
Before I continue, I need to make the following disclaimer: I am middle class, white and have benefited from a private school education. Diversity for me is not therefore about me. Yes I am a woman. I have had two children and I am currently carrying a third. But am I disadvantaged, do I need special pleading, do I want to fill a quota? No: I am lucky, I work hard and I recognise that there are plenty of people (men, women, fluid, trans) who need a lot more help with opportunities and inclusion than I do.

Now is a great time to be a woman (particularly if one has also benefited from a good education) as the greater awareness of inequality in both opportunities and pay is being recognised by businesses and, critically, being translated in to the hiring and promotion of women within the workforce. This is all great news of course, but there is something niggling me a little here. Is all this positive discrimination actually having the effect of causing inequality in other areas, and are companies merely complying with ‘a new status quo’ (that suits the loudest and most articulate cohorts for change) rather than actually being serious about making a more equal world for generations to come? This is obviously a broader point than the worlds of gambling and sport that we professionally occupy, but it applies to these fields as much as anywhere, if not more so since they are so much in the public eye.

Gender inequality is not a new problem, although, in my opinion, it is not as widespread or even problematic as some suggest – especially in the gambling sector. Like it or not, there are some things that women can naturally do a lot better than most men, and the same applies in reverse. This then translates into certain industries: women make up just 13% of the workforce within the construction industry (source: ONS, 2016), whereas it is men in the minority within the hair and beauty industry with 10.7% of employees (source: Habiba 2017). I am no doubt going to be lambasted now for being sexist, but the truth of the matter is that men are, in most instances, physically stronger than women which makes physical work easier. Similarly, most men (or certainly the ones I know) would lack the patience and ability to provide entertaining small talk to do a good manicure. On the customer-facing shop floor of gambling no such gender imbalance exists in terms of ability and – guess what – no real imbalance exist in terms of pay or proportions of women. Groundsmen at racecourses are another matter, but this physically demanding job is almost structurally bound to attract more men than women: I hope and believe that any women who fancy the role would receive no discrimination due to their sex, either in getting the job or how they are treated professionally.

However, it is the white-collar world where gender inequality has been focused (though the government did recently recognise that middle class women were perhaps not the cohort most in need of help). I do not agree that women suffer discrimination in terms of career progression in public life (though they certainly face plenty of other issues). After all, our Prime Minister is a woman (and state educated), though there are barriers to being an MP and a young mother (again, barriers that some are clearly prepared to overcome, the former Sports and gambling minister Tracey Crouch, for example). Both Crouch’s successor and predecessor are women (as is the head of gambling policy at DCMS). Women filled the role of chief executive at the Gambling Commission from its inception in 2005 to the start of this year; the chief executive and chair at the Senet Group are women; the chief executives at GamCare and the Gordon Moody Association are women; and the chair of GambleAware is also female.

The issue is perhaps more pronounced in the commercial vs. public sector: the concerning if amusing statistic that CEOs with the name of David outnumber female CEOs of plcs highlights this problem (INvolve, 2018). However, Britain’s richest woman, Denise Coates, co-founded and runs bet365 – a business which dwarfs many listed companies in terms of scale and organic achievement. It can be done, the question is, why isn’t it being done more often?

There is definitely a problem with women in middle management, which often translates to women getting to the top. Lots of theories have been put forward for this, from having to career-break for young children to temperament, as well as prejudice. However, the answer for me here is about role models and removing barriers (training, working practices that factor in childcare – including for men): not simply advocating more women, much less setting quotas. For me (and this is a personal view which I hope is respected), that sort of ‘positive discrimination’ has three huge flaws – which make it far from positive. First, it fails to take into account that many women are considerably more advantaged than many people who are not or do not identify as women – especially white middle class ones. Second, it demeans real achievement by making both the recipient of promotion and colleagues feel that it is gender not ability that created it: this is potentially disastrous for both productivity and self-esteem. Finally, any over-engineered system is capable of being gamed: rules suit bureaucrats and politicians, female or not, meaning more rules means more bureaucrats and politicians get promoted, female or not: this is not what business, or society needs, in my view.

A bigger point is that diversity is not just limited to gender however, despite the extent to which the diversity agenda seems to be dominated by women (often, it seems, for women). It is very difficult to find data on the employment of ethnic minorities – perhaps political correctness has gone completely mad and we cannot ask people to provide their ethnicity for fear of upsetting them. However, we know that ethnic minorities are underrepresented in all sectors. Employment rates of those classed as white is 10% greater than those from ethnic minority groups (source: ONS, 2018). However, this is being overshadowed. As is the number of people with disabilities within the mainstream job market, and those of older age who are in danger of suffering further discrimination as companies scramble to hire women in order to ‘tick the diversity box.’ In a similar vein, however, I believe diversity here can benefit hugely from role models and training, while ‘tokenism’ is potentially even more toxic for everyone.

On a similar note, a few years ago private schools and blue riband universities came under fire for not supporting those from underprivileged backgrounds, and duly handed out bursaries and scholarships in order to satisfy the critics. This had the effect of undermining the achievement of the individual, with them being seen as the token ethnic minority/lower socio-economic background or other ‘insert minority group here.’ We have plenty of role models who do buck the trend and achieve despite it all. Famous judge (to use another esteemed member of the legal profession) Lord Denning attended Grammar school before being granted a bursary to Oxford University, having not been taught Greek and Latin at state school, he taught himself in order to be able to take up the place. As a judge he literally shaped the law into being fairer to all groups and accessible to all.

In gambling, research shows patterns – in terms of participation and problems – with demography (age, ethnicity, deprivation). More people in management from wider backgrounds is not just the right thing to do ethically (and this is emphatically not gender-related). The more representative a company is of the community it serves, the more likely it is to serve it well and the less likely it is to exploit it (accidentally or on purpose). Equally, both the actions and PR of a company of its community are more likely to be meaningful – and believed – than one made led by professional bureaucrats and corporate politicians (of any sex or ethnic origin). What might be the symptoms be of this corporate management culture being out of kilter? I would suggest: a lack of innovation, a lack of customer and staff satisfaction, political and regulatory missteps, focus on how things look rather than how things are. Does any of this sound familiar to people in gambling and sport?! Interesting, a recent study (Involve, 2018) found that more inclusive businesses financially outperformed the average on by 12ppts, while companies with the most developed diversity policy outperformed by 15ppts: I would wager this figure would be higher in the political/regulatory/community charged worlds or gambling and sport than the overall average.

Throughout history, there have been many individuals who have broken the mould and achieved greatness despite (and indeed sometimes because of) their background/gender/ethnicity – we have all the role models we need. with barriers broken down through legislation (Equality Act 2010) and policy, there are no excuses for businesses to not just talk the talk of diversity, but start walking the walk of inclusivity.

So what do I believe this means in practice for businesses and stakeholders in gambling and sport? Three simple things, in my view:

  • Organisations should focus on meaningful diversity to reflect the communities they operate in at all levels, rather than visible but skin-deep ‘tokenism’
  • Diversity should be about all areas of society, capturing economic and social privilege, and ethnicity – as well as ‘just’ gender
  • Focus should be on training, role models and leadership right across organisations from the bottom up – not just the fig-leaf of a parallel bureaucracy, soundbites and policy documents people can file away with the box ticked…