Andrew Penny, November 4 2021

Accentuate the Positive

Each year I mentor a student in the Telfer School of Business at the University of Ottawa. This year the woman I am mentoring has been asked to participate in their Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee.  A truly noble cause. But…

I am reminded of the great experiment underway at the moment to encourage the vaccine hesitant to rethink their opposition to it. Results show that the most effective persuasion is based on the upside to becoming vaccinated – ability to travel, eat inside restaurants (it’s getting cold here in the northern hemisphere), being part of a larger movement and so on. Negative messaging such as letting the side down, breaking the health care system, not getting sick, etc. has not been shown to be effective. 

So back to the topic at hand… most of the messaging around diversity and inclusion is remedial – fixing a broken system, anti-this and anti-that and the focus is typically on the negative side of these issues. These are all certainly valid issues but focusing on them doesn’t work well.  Using this approach to effect change requires coercive actions such as complex rules and laws and processes. 

Why not take a lesson from the vaccination campaigns and promote the positive side of equity, diversity and inclusion? Promote the benefits to those with the greatest ability to make a difference – our business leaders.   Ask them to tell their stories to their peers about how diversity has helped their businesses. Capture the data that shows how businesses grow more quickly, become more profitable and achieve objectives when they are more equitable, more diverse and inclusive. 

And so back to Telfer’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee…  I encourage them, and every business leader, to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and simply advise business owners on how to make good team building decisions that will improve their businesses. 

Here at Kingsford, when I reflect on it, we have a fairly diverse team – but it was built for business reasons – not to fix a societal problem or to help any specific under-represented group. It just makes good sense. 

Written by

Andrew Penny


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