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Benefits of Diversity with Dr Yvonne Thompson

On this week’s episode of the Build Back Better podcast, our host Luke Murfitt had the pleasure of speaking to Dr Yvonne Thompson. As a founder of Choice FM (now known as Capital Xtra), she’s a key figure in the UK radio industry and has also been a constant champion for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Yvonne has been recognised for her various contributions with membership of the Society of Leadership Fellows at Windsor Castle, as well as two honorary doctorates.


She’s certainly lived a trailblazing life, dealing with obstacles from three directions: as a woman, as a black person, and as a single mother. But the importance of resilience is something she’s keen to share with others: “you have to be focused on what you know you can do,” she says. “I always felt that, every step I took, I had to build my resilience, my bouncebackability.”


Back in the 1990s, Yvonne didn’t come across many people who looked like her at the top echelons of business, something that inspired her to set up a business network for black women. “That’s been ongoing since 1997,” she explains, “and I’ve done the same thing with women on boards. After success in the radio industry, my profile was raised and I was approached to be on boards. But when I got there, I was either the only woman or the only person of colour. That fight still goes on today. Whilst the percentage of women on boards has increased, the dial has gone backwards in terms of the number of people of colour. In order for this to change, we have to encourage employers to be more diverse.”


Diversity isn’t just important from a human perspective; it also makes great business sense, and Yvonne cites an interesting study from McKinsey into the commercial benefits of diversity and inclusion: “Every company, including small companies, are global – we’re all now online. So, you have to think about reflecting your customer makeup through diversity. There’s a lot of evidence that if you have women on boards, you’ll be more likely to outperform your competitors by 15%. If you have diversity on gender, plus the intersectionality of race, that goes up to 35%, and it continues to increase with more and more streams of diversity. It’s not only a good thing to do; it’s a profitable thing to do. Companies need to think about that and act on that.”


We should bear in mind these many “streams of diversity”, then, and not just consider it from a single perspective: “It’s more important than ever to have diversity of thought, diversity of background, diversity of ability...all these things are part of the puzzle of the new norm. It’s time for leaders to start having the difficult dialogues that they’ve dodged. It’s time to become comfortable with uncomfortable conversations.”


For Yvonne, equality is all about having a seat at the table. What people do with the information shared around that table is up to them, but the important thing is that people have the opportunity to listen and learn.


As businesses consider how to thrive in a post-pandemic world, an increased focus on diversity and inclusion is certainly an important piece of that puzzle. It’s only by gathering a range of perspectives that you can get the best possible solution to a problem. And that’s why companies with diversity and inclusion in their DNA stand to do very well in the future.


This year’s UK Business Awards features a Diversity and Inclusion Program category. If you feel you’ve done great work in this area, why not enter now?