Asif Sadiq MBE, is a multi-award winning Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) expert with over 15 years’ experience. He’s Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging for The Telegraph Media Group and has worked on numerous global projects such as the Government’s BME 2018 Action Plan, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s global diversity strategy and initiatives to tackle the skills gap of refugees across Europe.
Can you tell me a bit about your career journey?
I started my career as a uniformed police officer. I then moved into CID, Counter Terrorism and then across to Diversity, taking up the role of Head of the Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Unit for the City of London Police. I made the switch to the private sector as Head of Diversity and Inclusion for EY Financial Services and about 18 months ago, I joined the Telegraph Media Group.
You’ve worked across the public sector, private sector and you’re now in the media. Have you seen the same challenges?
Yes. I think there’s a common challenge facing the business world, regardless of industry or sector. There is a general lack of understanding about D&I, what it means and why it matters.
We’ve reached the stage where D&I is a business imperative. It’s widely accepted that failing to tackle it will cost businesses reputationally and financially, but D&I is still seen as a box-ticking exercise by a lot of organisations. The issue with that approach is that no-one fits into just one box, and that often, our tick boxes don’t capture the things that are most important to people.
What challenges do businesses face?
Everyone is looking for a quick fix. Often businesses want to bring someone in to talk to them about D&I and to solve the problem. What we need is for companies to champion D&I internally, the intent must come from within, as ultimately behaviors must change.
I think the biggest challenge is how do we embed D&I as a business objective? D&I shouldn’t be a ‘nice to have’. Businesses need to weave it into what they do as an organisation.
It probably sounds strange, but I’m not a fan of businesses having a D&I strategy per se. If you put together a to-do list and strategy, what often happens is that things get ticked off and then forgotten about.
Instead, I’ve introduced principles of belonging. Thoughts and ideas that are woven into the different business departments.
It’s difficult because often the majority in an organisation feel that diversity has nothing to do with them. When, actually, diversity is about each and every person, even those who don’t see themselves fitting into any of the diversity or minority boxes. Diversity isn’t a Robin Hood story. It's not about taking from one group and giving to another.
What are the opportunities for businesses who get D&I right?
I think the biggest opportunity is innovation, better ideas and better solutions. The benefits are there for everyone to experience fresh ideas and diversity of thought.
For younger talent, diversity is a given, it’s not an option. It’s that simple, they just won’t join businesses that they don’t see as diverse and inclusive.
How do you feel about diversity targets?
Setting diversity targets is great, but if talent then doesn’t feel included and have sense of belonging, there’s little point. A lot of companies want to attract diverse talent, but the reality is that once they join, they then have to adapt their style to suit the business and behave like everyone else. It just doesn’t work.
There's a need to go beyond inclusion to shift the focus to belonging. If people then can’t be authentic, be trusted and have a voice, we’re failing.
If we strip it all back, the benefit of hiring diverse talent is that it brings more innovation, better ideas, increased productivity and will often disrupt the norm. To reap the benefits of diversity, we need to offer an inclusive environment in which people can be themselves.
Do management styles have to change to successfully manage diverse teams?
It’s a challenge, as often businesses group people as minorities or by diversity traits. The problem with grouping is that it leads to assumptions being made about large numbers of people. The result is that everyone in that group is then treated the same and so we start developing management styles based on stereotypes and not individuals and their needs.
Styles need to change. There needs to be more flexibility, authenticity and a more personal approach. There’s a real need for education.
There’s still a reluctance for businesses to have open and honest conversations about D&I, why do you think that is?
One of the key things is that businesses have to understand that they don’t have to be perfect before they start talking about D&I. The perception is often that we should only talk about D&I when it’s good and when we’ve done a great job, which is not true. It's like any other agenda item. If there are areas for improvement or if we’re not making progress, let’s talk about it.
How do you make D&I a business initiative and get widespread buy-in?
We need to change the way we talk about D&I. We need to align it to the wider business objectives and give it a business case. We need to make D&I a business priority and to make it fit into what the business is trying to achieve.
We also need to get people to a place where they’re comfortable discussing diversity. There’s often a perception that some people’s diversity differences are more important or different to others. We need to own our differences and be proud of them, but also understand that what might be important to you as an individual might not be important to other people.
There’s a lot of talk that technology and AI will help with the D&I challenge by reducing unconscious bias, what’s your view?
It’s an interesting one. The challenge with technology is that it is only as good as the information that feeds into it. Overall, I think technology is great, for example using language decoders to check you’re using gender neutral language is helpful. But unless you have diversity at the design stage, we are not going to tackle bias with technology.
How do you think Brexit will impact D&I?
I think Brexit is really interesting. There’s a lot of talk of the negatives, but I also think there are opportunities. It's interesting. Brexit has created new minority groups, but how do we capture their needs and differences? It will be interesting to see how that pans out.
One of the major benefits it presents is for young, diverse talent, who may have missed out on opportunities. I'll give you an example. If larger organisations have a talent gap, they’ll often relocate people from other regions. Brexit will mean that businesses will have to invest more in supporting local diverse talent, whether that’s through apprenticeships or other training programmes.
Without doubt, the biggest challenge Brexit presents is discrimination in the workplace. I think it may change our views of inclusion and what it is. I just hope that the perception is not that everyone has to fit in and be the same as the majority.
What advice would you give to businesses at the start of their D&I journey?
Every company is unique and has its own challenges and opportunities. It's a journey, there are quick wins, but the quick wins often don’t last.
The key thing is not to fall into the trap of trying to compete with others in your industry. It’s only natural to want to see what our competitors are doing and then mirror them. However, this approach often leads to us being the best of a bad bunch.
My advice would be to look at what results you want and then work backwards. D&I is not about targets, it’s about our people, whether we’re making a difference to them, whether they feel included and a sense of belonging. You have to get buy-in, get feedback and then use it to help you drive the wider strategy. Understand that everyone's experiences are different, give people a voice.
Get to know Asif
What does an average working day look like?
I have a young family, so my days are fairly flexible.
I start by understanding what’s going on in the world around me, especially in the diversity and inclusion world.
As I work in a business change role, I work closely with different parts of the business. I’m often speaking or presenting at meetings.
How you strike a good work/life balance?
I work at odd times. I’m not a big believer in the traditional 9-5. I may start late, finish early and then do more work when the kids are in bed. I’m a firm believer that we should be assessed on our output.
What’s your biggest achievement in business?
Being able to successfully work across different industries. Navigating my career in different sectors, from the police, to the private sector and now to media, that’s been one of my highlights.
What’s the best piece of career/business advice you’ve received?
Believe in yourself, even when others don’t. Be true to what you believe in. That’s something that’s supported me throughout the years. Stop comparing yourself to others.
What keeps you awake at night?
The kids! And the challenges facing society. We’ve made progress in so many ways, but in others, we’re taking real steps back. It's scary.
What motivates you?
Making a difference. It's always been a big thing for me. It's why I joined the Police and I still get that sense of satisfaction when I know I've made a positive change to someone’s life.
Where would you like to be in five or 10 years’ time?
I’d like to be doing a global role. I really want my work to have a wider impact.
Tell me a fun fact about yourself
I can speak 5 languages.
- Last holiday: Greece.
- Hobbies: I’ve just moved house, and I'm actually really enjoying doing DIY.
- Biggest Inspiration: My dad. Seeing him succeed in business over the years. His resilience was really inspiring growing up.
- 3 words to sum up your personality: Enthusiastic, funny and determined.
- Favourite book: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
- Favourite film: The Godfather.
- Favourite music: A mix of genres.
- Favourite gadget: My phone. I start having panic attacks if the battery dies.
- Favourite food: I’m a big fan of burgers.
If you're interested in being interviewed as part of the BPS Perspectives series, I'd love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.