A couple of months ago I was asked to join a global group around the topics of diversity and inclusion. As someone who comes from a country that, in my admittedly biased view, leads the world in dealing well with these issues, I was interested to hear the views of other members of the group from different countries.

I’ve been thinking of these themes around diversity and inclusion (D&I) recently, within the context of the small startups I’m involved with, and the larger organizations I observe and work with. In particular, I’ve been ruminating on the issues around really getting D&I ingrained within organizations as part of the culture, rather than just as a “feel good” add on. I’ve been talking to many individuals within organizations tasked with managing the various D&I topics and one thing has struck me: the barriers they themselves face when issues arise at the higher echelons of the organization.

Obviously, recent events at conferences I have attended have highlighted the lack of diversity that exists within our industry. But while this is certainly an issue (and one which I am personally trying to help resolve) I’m also cognisant that some even more serious issues still exist, hidden in plain sight, within our industry. Obviously, the recent revelations about the issues at Uber, as well as high-profile venture capitalists being outed for their actions, have given us a taste of what is up, but this is, in my view, the tip of a large and seriously problematic iceberg.

This was rammed home to me recently when I was told about one particular executive who was “exited” from a large organization due to some alleged sexual misconduct. It seems that many people were aware of this situation, but given this individual’s high standing in the industry, it was swept under the carpet. Said individual was employed by another, similarly high-profile, organizations, and the pattern recurred. There was the allegation of sexual misconduct, the individual “resigned” and the issue was, once again, silenced.

While the individual details of this case are important, far more important (in my view) are the systemic issues that led to it even being remotely imaginable to silence the issue. Where was the D&I officer, the organizational policies and the culture of inclusivity and good practice?

It seems to me that the issue here is that, amongst many (if not most) organizations, D&I is a subset of HR, an employee and employment issue, and not one of overall company culture. Which has made me think that there is a gap in how organizations engender a culture of D&I into their workplace and further led me to think about potential solutions.

In the D&I group I’m involved with, there is much talk about conference Codes of Conduct, written rules that all conference attendees and speakers are expected to abide by. Codes of Conduct have proven to be a highly effective way of dealing with D&I issues within the context of a standalone event. So what if we could create a similar notion, but one which spanned the entire organization?

What I’m thinking of is a business Code of Conduct, one that the CEO and the board sign up for, that clearly stipulates the expected behaviors expected within the organization with regards D&I. This code would also clearly state that these behaviors are expected from ALL employees, from the board down and that all parties will have the same expectation and the same consequences in the event of non-compliance.

It doesn’t need to be a huge document full of legalese, I’m thinking a single page that clearly, concisely and emphatically stipulates the cultural expectation of everyone within the business.

I’ve been talking to D&I staff and other individuals from within a number of organizations, both large and small, and there seems to be real interest in the idea. Next steps involve the creation of a blanket code and signing up as many organizations to adopt the code. It’s not going to solve all the problems, but I suspect it might go some way to resolving what seems to be a real dichotomy between what some D&I teams state, and how the highest executives within some organizations actually behave.

This is about starting a movement, so who else is interested in exploring this idea?

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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