Humanity has huge challenges ahead, from fighting new viruses and fast-evolving bacteria, to tackling climate change. Targets towards tackling these major challenges ahead of us, have been captured by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); ‘a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and in the future’.
Two of the SDGs express shared commitments to reduce inequalities and eliminate discrimination. SDG 5 sets targets and indicators to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ and SDG 10 to ‘reduce inequality within and among countries’. I argue that achieving all SDGs will depend on our success in increasing the diversity of thought and participation of people from diverse ethnic, racial, economic, social, educational, religious and cultural backgrounds in research, innovation, businesses and governments.
When disabled people work as decision makers and in governments, the likelihood increases considerably that their voice will be heard when plastic straws are about to be banned or public transport systems are redesigned – SDG11 ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’.
Only when women are part of IT design teams and AI research groups, does someone think about including a period tracker in a health app or using AI to diagnose endometriosis (diagnosis currently takes up to 7 years, while this disease affects 1 in 10 women) – SDG 3 ‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’.
When all people get an equal opportunity to contribute, we avoid missing out on great talent, innovative ideas or specific perspectives because of a person’s race, sexual orientation or socio-economic background – SDGs 1-17, and currently of particular focus; SDG13 ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’.
Where diversity is an essential element of setting research teams, businesses and governments up for tackling global challenges, inclusiveness is the path to get us there. Or as Dame Angela Strank (Chief Scientist at BP) eloquently worded in 2017: “Diverse talent will thrive in an inclusive culture where everybody is valued and treated equally with respect and dignity without any form of discrimination. That’s real inclusion. And what we do know is that if we get the ‘I’ (inclusion) bit right, then the ‘D’ (diversity) bit will follow.”
Research institutions, businesses and governments can and should take deliberate action to make their cultures as inclusive as possible. From using inclusive language in job adverts to ensuring the food choices in canteens satisfy everyone’s needs. From offering appropriate job sharing opportunities to setting a dress code that doesn’t make employees feel uncomfortable at the company’s summer party. From creating zero tolerance environments for bullying and harassment to providing tools and training for chairing inclusive meetings.
We all have a responsibility to create more inclusive and diverse environments, not only because it’s morally the right thing to do, but because progress against the major challenges ahead of us will be tackled more effectively when everyone can contribute and a range of diverse ideas and complimentary perspectives can be relied on.
On the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, the United Nations cultural agency itself declared that ‘cultural diversity is an outstanding source of exchange, innovation and creativity, and has the enormous potential to accelerate sustainable development’.
First featured in IQ Business Magazine in March 2020