Did you watch the Superbowl at the weekend? Even if you didn’t you probably heard about singer Beyonce’s promotion of Black Lives Matter and controversial tribute to the 1960’s Black Panther Party. Mayor Giuliani wasn’t impressed but many were in support of her audacity. And at the same event, rock group Coldplay promoted LGBT communities – something you would not have seen at a ‘middle America’ event such as the Superbowl a few years ago.
Bringing the minority to the mainstream is becoming more common. Whether it is the increasing presence of women in high profile leadership roles (think Angela Merkel becoming the first woman to be TIME Person of the Year in 29 years, and the pressure Jeremy Corbyn faced last year to promote women to senior cabinet positions), or giving disabled people greater equality (you’ve probably noticed Channel 4 proudly promoting itself as Paralympic broadcaster, and perhaps seen that Lego has introduced the first character is a wheelchair), people who were once seen as underdogs are seeing the playing field even out.
Unfortunately there are still barriers to overcome. Recent articles have exposed retailers and manufacturers exploiting gender difference and charging different amounts for essentially the same product. And, according to to Elizabeth Sweet, a professor of sociology at the University of California, the toy industry is more gender-divided now than at any time in the past 50 years, illustrated nicely by the failure of several toymakers to include female character Rey when they released the latest Star Wars playsets and games.
What about the work place? Inroads are being made – shared parental leave is more common now, female leadership quotas are considered by many organisations and there has been acknowledgement of the skillset people with autism can bring to technology companies. But is diversity really a top priority for business? Our recent research into leadership styles shows that female-type traits such as leading by example, communicating in an open and transparent way, admitting mistakes and bringing out the best in others are rated more effective than some of the more male ‘command and control’ styles of the past. Our diversity research shows that diversity of thought is a distinct advantage to businesses. Having people in your business from different backgrounds, cultures and with different ideologies is a powerful way to innovate while employing a workforce reflective of the demographic make-up of your customer base provides competitive advantage. Despite the evidence, few organisations take heed of the advice and place diversity at the centre of their business strategy.
Diversity statements such as the one Beyonce made at the weekend remain controversial because they happen infrequently. The more high profile cases there are of a minority figure triumphing, the less unusual it will become. And when the unusual is made normal it relieves the pressure and lets people speak up and challenge the way things are done, be it in an American Football stadium, the government or your place of work.