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ANJU SOLANKI, FOUNDER, MEA CONSULTING GROUP
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN THE WORKPLACE
Within the fashion industry, the focus on hiring Leaders to create a brands Diversity and Inclusion strategy is relatively new and brands may at first do so to save face or make amends. Diversity matters to employees, suppliers and to customers.
A 2018 McKinsey report found that organisations with ethnic and gender-diverse executive teams outperformed their less diverse counterparts by up to 35 per cent because of increased innovation and customer insight.
To recognise the recent movement and increased focus on diversity and inclusion, for our next edition of Mode Meets we interviewed one of partners and the founder of MEA Consulting Group, Anju Solanki. MEA Consulting is a diversity consultancy which helps aspiring and progressive companies attract, retain and accelerate the progression of minority groups on the path to leadership.
Prior to founding MEA, Anju worked in investment banking for 12 years, building a successful track record on the trading floor and creating a network of international clients. Having experienced the invisible barriers minority groups face first hand, she became super passionate about driving change.
Anju is also a business mentor for the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, helping aspiring female entrepreneurs in Africa develop their business strategy.
She was showcased as an inspiring woman for International Women’s Day 2020 at United World College South East Asia and is a regular guest on various media outlets, including the BBC and Guardian.
Anju lives in Essex with her husband, daughter and soon to be new addition to her family.
Why is a Diversity and Inclusion strategy so important in the work place today?
It has always been important, however the benefits of diversity and inclusion are now so apparent so the urgency for businesses to get it right is paramount. We live in a globalised society and we are connected more than ever to people from diverse backgrounds. Businesses now service customers from all around the world, so when we are creating goods and services, we need to have diversity of thought in creating innovative solutions that meet the different needs of the customer base. The most successful businesses are the ones which foster an inclusive culture which allows employees to be themselves at work and celebrates their differences and individual contributions. Also, we know it’s the right thing to do!
What is your biggest piece of advice for businesses looking to get started with diversity and inclusion?
Ensure diversity and inclusion is part of the core business strategy. It is so important business leaders and employees make themselves accountable to drive change, so it needs to be more than a series of initiatives owned solely by HR divisions. My advice is to start with reflecting inwards and understanding the true culture and employee experience within your business. I believe the best starting points are to get perspectives from all parts of the business. It is so important that companies place as much importance on inclusion which allows employees to bring their whole selves to work (and which is harder to measure) as they do on diversity.
What are the biggest challenges for businesses who are only now starting to look into their Diversity and inclusion strategy?
The biggest challenge I see is getting comfortable with being honest and transparent the real challenges each individual business faces, as they vary from each company. It is coming up with a clear vision and mission on what values they hold as a business when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Many companies unfortunately race to roll out tactical initiatives like minority networks, a speaker series or poster page on D+I as quick PR wins, but do not ultimately move the needle on improving the situation. Remember, it is easy to hire diversity but much harder to keep it.
How do you measure actual success rather than businesses just mentioning they have a diversity and inclusion policy?
Diversity and inclusion is a deeply complex and broad issue, and measuring it is too. It is key to have a thorough dashboard to keep track of progress. Some tips for measuring inclusion for instance include well thought through employee engagement surveys, retention rate comparisons for minority groups vs rest of workforce. Mental wellbeing checks. If the culture is not inclusive, it can lead to burn out of employees not being able to thrive in their workplace or bring themselves fully to work. Overlooking performance reviews and analysing feedback is important, for instance, a well established study has shown women receive more negative feedback on their personal styles than men do. This stems from our unconscious biases. Tracking the take up of learning and development of staff. Of course then the most obvious ones are looking at your gender and ethnicity pay gaps at the very least and setting realistic targets across each of the major minority group areas (age, gender identity, LGBTQ+, race, disability). I could go on forever as the measures are comprehensive…!
How do you see the future of our workplace changing?
I believe we will continue to embrace technology as a means of working where possible. Where much of the work is still face to face or store based, I believe the quality of customer engagement will increase but the number of interactions might reduce. The younger generation are focused on sustainability and mirroring their personal values on that of their employer. Therefore to attract the best talent it will be important for workplaces to ensure their businesses reflect this in their values.
How would you describe inclusive leadership?
Inclusive leadership requires a solid level of emotional intelligence. It is about understanding and valuing the people who work for you and the individual contributions they can bring to your teams. Inclusive leaders tend to be empathetic, work collaboratively and communicate effectively. They are curious about others and are humble in their approach. As they say, a boss has the title but a leader has the people!
How has the recent movement with black lives matter affected Diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
The recent events have been one of the most unfortunate but necessary wake up calls to society and business. The Black Lives Matter movement is raising awareness to businesses on the barriers which black people have and continue to face in all parts of their lives including work. It is now pushing businesses to educate themselves better, to raise awareness, and most important take action and make a stance on anti-racism in the workplace.
MODE SEARCH LTD 2021 No. 10889892