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Why you need to start thinking differently about diversity

Don't think of diversity as an opportunity to give back, but instead, consider the genuine impact and difference it can make, says our expert Jake Humphrey

Every year at Whisper, the production company I co-founded in 2011, we get the team together for an away day. I know this is not a rare phenomenon in business, but for me, it’s an important moment.

Whisper has offices in the UK, Middle East and New Zealand, so it’s a much bigger company than when it started in my back bedroom with me, my co-founder Sunil Patel and my wife as the only employees. It’s important to see and hear from everyone and shake some hands. It’s pretty humbling as well when you walk into a room of almost 300 people and think this is the business you started more than a decade ago.

One thing we like to do on these days is invite a speaker. In the past few years, we’ve tried to move away from these people always being elite high achievers because it’s often hard for teams to relate to someone who has won a gold medal or fought for the special forces or lifted a Champions League trophy. As fascinating as those people are, it can be difficult to work out how their experience relates to someone like me or you.

This year we invited Jamil Qureshi. You could describe him as a motivational speaker, but he’s also a performance psychologist and an expert in high performance. He’s worked with some elite sports and businesspeople, including the golfer Darren Clarke, Formula 1 driver David Coulthard and execs at companies including Coca-Cola, Lloyds Bank and Marks & Spencer.

It was a great session but one thing he said that really struck a chord with me was that diversity improves creativity. Since we started Whisper, diversity has been a calling card for us. But if you’d asked me before this away day why diversity is important, I would have told you it was because I come from a small village, none of my family worked in TV and the only reason I do is because people took a chance on me.

I would have told you that my dad was a charity worker, so I’ve always had this feeling inside me that giving back is more important than taking. I would also have said that my co-founder is the son of a newsagent’s owner in Twickenham with no previous TV experience among any of his family or friends. He’s bucked the trend.

I thought the reason why diversity mattered at Whisper is because it’s our chance to give back, to try and equalise things a bit. This is particularly important in the TV industry, which is traditionally predominantly white, male and middle-class. But what I wouldn’t have been able to answer is why diversity, apart from creating an interesting culture, makes your business better than others.

Thomas Bjorn with sports psychologist Jamil Qureshi during the Andalucia Open de Espana Valle Romano
(L-R) Sports psychologist Jamil Qureshi and professional golfer Thomas Bjorn (Image: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

When Jamil said that diversity improves creativity, my ears immediately pricked up. If there’s one thing that has taken people by surprise about Whisper, it’s the creativity of our business and the culture we’ve created. Some people outside the business have taken a swipe at us, saying that Whisper is akin to a cult. But I always think the only people who claim you’re a cult are people who work in a business without a culture, so I’ve always disregarded it because I know it’s nonsense.

But how have we been so creative? How have we been allowed to take such a large market share of the British TV landscape? The answer is creativity. And the reason we’re creative is because we’re diverse.

But, as Qureshi pointed out, just having diverse people in a business isn’t enough. For that to positively impact the business you own, everyone must have a voice. Diversity is inviting people to the party; inclusion is making them feel confident enough to get up and dance in front of everybody. That’s what we’ve been good at, ensuring everyone’s voices are heard and everyone feels part of the business and where it’s going next.

The reason for writing this column is to challenge you as the reader to think differently about diversity. Don’t think of it as an opportunity to give back but consider the genuine impact and difference it can make.

It is hard to run a business now. That means it’s never been more important to understand your USP and bring something different to the table.

Jake Humphrey is the host of the High Performance podcast and co-founder of Whisper Group

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