Interview: Asif Sadiq - Global Head Of Diversity, Inclusion & social Impact At Adidas
Asif Sadiq is one of the UK’s foremost diversity and inclusion experts. He has dedicated his life to improving equality in the workplace, in such roles as the Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Social Impact at Adidas and Reebok and the Head of Equity and Inclusion at Warner Media.
We sat down with Asif to discuss what businesses must do to improve diversity and inclusion. Find out more, here:
Q: What do inclusivity and diversity mean to you & why are they important?
“Diversity doesn't mean one thing; it means many things. And everyone is not one thing, they are many things - everyone is a unique identity. Diversity is the multiple layers of identities that every individual has within an organisation, and that includes every single person.
“Inclusion is considering, how do you create an environment where people can be their authentic self and celebrate their own unique identities, but then also contribute towards a common goal within an organisation?
“Inclusion and diversity have legal requirements behind them and there is the moral case, but there's also the business case now. The business case is not a new element, but I think companies and organisations now see the value in how diversity drives better performance, better output, more innovation, and better productivity.
“So that's what the two elements mean to me, but I think they go hand in hand and, you can't do one without the other. But it's really important to look at both in the context of where we are now and the future.”
Q: In the past year, how has diversity & inclusion evolved in the corporate environment?
“In the last couple of months, every organisation has gone through this rapid change and rapid movement within the diversity and inclusivity space, and rightly so. It's highlighted that it’s now on the agenda for a lot of leaders.
“For me, it's of huge importance to talk to companies, and it's been key that during this period, we don't only look at what we can do in the short term, but we look at the long term. How do we now embrace this new world and create sustainable initiatives and work within the diversity and inclusion space, so it becomes part and parcel of what we do?
“It should not be seen as a nice thing or seen as specific actions that we can do, but something that should be embedded into our normal working. It should not be an afterthought but weaved into what we do day-to-day.”
Q: What would be your one tip for businesses looking to create a more inclusive culture?
“There are many things companies can do, but the one thing companies should acknowledge is a phrase I recently quoted at an event which was, ‘diversity is not a problem that we're trying to solve, it's an opportunity we're trying to embrace’.
“If we look at it from that perspective, if companies look at diversity and inclusion as a business opportunity, and an opportunity to make staff feel more included, then you can create sustainable long-term impact. But if you see it as an issue and as something you need to fix, then you'll never make a change.”
Q: What are the negative effects a lack of diversity can have on a corporate team?
“I think having a lack of diversity within an environment reduces innovation. If you look at what a company's core values are, or what any company or organisation wants to achieve, it is success. Whether that be the private sector or the public sector, everyone's trying to achieve better results, better performance, better output, innovation, ideas and problem-solving.
“When you have a lack of diversity, you have what I would put as group-thinking or a certain perspective on things, and that doesn't help because it doesn't create new ideas. New ideas are not born when we all think the same. So, a lack of diversity can lead to a lack of better output, a lack of problem-solving, a lack of engagement with your customers, your consumers, your service users - whatever industry you're in.
“A lack of diversity can really hold an organisation back, and they won’t be a big growth organisation in any way. So, diversity is crucial in that respect because it creates that momentum. But a lack of it can be quite detrimental in how sustainable a company is for the future.”
Q: Why is it important to have diversity in higher leadership roles?
“Decisions are made across the organisation. There are decisions made at the lower levels, but there are also some great, big decisions around where the direction an organisation is going in, which are made at the top. And having that diversity just helps support better decisions. It just creates a different opinion, a different view, a different perspective.
“When you look at consumers, the world isn't one group - the world is very diverse. When you look at big commercial businesses that are trying to operate in or trying to engage in new markets, whether that be the Middle East, Africa and so on. If you don't have diversity within your leadership teams or your organisation, how are you going to engage with those new markets? Or even if you take the UK as an example, where businesses are, during this period, really competing to survive and bring about new business.
“Then you've got the purple pound. So, the purple pound is the buying power of the disabled. You've got the pink pound, the buying power of the LGBTQ community. Why would you not want to engage with these diverse consumer groups that you traditionally haven't? That's a potential for generating new income. And so, from a commercial perspective, it makes sense.
“Your consumers are not only one group of people, but they are also very diverse. If you don't meet the needs of all your consumers, they will not engage in your services.”
Q: What qualities constitute a good leader?
“I think the biggest quality of any good leader is being an authentic leader and an inclusive leader. That's a phenomenon that wasn't necessarily in place many, many years ago. I still remember being on those leadership courses 10 odd years ago, and a good leader was considered a strong leader, one who doesn't take anything from anyone and always had a particular mindset.
“I think that's changed. The world around us has changed. A great leader now is humble, one that's authentic, that shows vulnerability and doesn't have all the answers. That's what people want to see, a human leader, not a leader that they just see on paper who scares them, but a leader who they can relate to. That is the future in my view, of true authentic leadership and success in leadership.”
Q: Why is it important to have a gender-friendly culture in the workplace?
“We need to create an environment where everyone feels included. It is a question of, how do we create a space where everyone thrives?
“Now, of course, we are aware that women are not represented in the way they should, in any organisation - and that's a hugely important point. But also, the changing dynamics of the world we live in, we’ve now got men who want to be active within their family life. Active parents and active fathers, who want to work flexibly and want to take longer shared parental leave and all these things.
“The world around us is changing, and we need to create a working environment where we don't assign specific stereotypes to a particular gender. To create true inclusion, we need to make sure we adapt and create an environment where, regardless of your gender, you can succeed, and you have all the opportunities available to you.”
Q: Consider someone at the start of their entrepreneurial journey, what advice would you offer them?
“I think the key thing is, you need to ensure that you do work from a position of passion but your passion can't come across as activism.
“You still need to consider solving the business problems and business challenges, within this space. So, I think the big thing is, how do you continue to do that? I mentioned earlier that, right now D&I is a very important topic for a lot of organisations, it’s a hot topic and all the doors are open, but I can remember doing this when you would knock on doors, and people would tell you 'no, no time for D&I'.
“I still got up and said, 'OK, maybe not today, but I'll come back to you next week and knock on your door again'. So, I think you need persistence and equality in the work you do to ensure you represent every single group and different dynamic or category of diversity in the same way. Be ready to take ‘no’ many times and be ready to get up and challenge it again.”
Q: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the start of your career, what would it be?
“I mean, I could never have predicted 15 odd years ago that everyone would want to talk about D&I the way they're talking about it today.
“But it can get very disheartening at times, and so I think one piece of advice I'd give myself at that stage would be, you can't change the world in one day, but you can change it one step at a time. And I sometimes focus so much on changing the world in one day, that I forgot I was taking steps forward one day at a time.”
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