Black History Month is an opportunity for all of us to consider our work on equality, diversity and inclusion. Dr Fred Amonya explains why he thinks we all have some way to go yet.
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As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s a good time to reflect on our approach to EDI.
There’s a widespread notion that EDI is an appeasement of people who look different, have differences in physical ability or differences in gender, which is just false. My take is simple: industry has a duty to respect the diversity of our ecosystem and EDI is a big part of that. And in respecting that diversity, industry should reap financial rewards.
The diversity I'm talking about should be reflected in the bottom line. It's our duty to change this notion that EDI must be condemned to some dilapidated building somewhere in a corner. I want to see the very top of the corporate world pay more attention to EDI. It's not a function for the sidelines: this is the crux of the argument and it must be understood.
Part of the problem is that we don't pay homage to history in looking at some of these issues. To understand EDI, we need to go back to the end of the last century. EDI took off on the back of the sustainability and development goals set out by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. This sustainability wave then developed into a broader environment, sustainability and governance question.
Industry hasn't really thought hard about it, though, seeing EDI as an exercise of form filling, ticking a few boxes. Partly that's because the engineering industry – both consulting and contracting – hasn’t had a long-term view of the future. Look at how much consulting has changed, with lots of mergers and acquisitions. In that kind of environment, it's very difficult to create a consistent vision.
The same applies to the contracting industry. If you look at the changes in private finance coming in, the changes have meant that people haven't thought much about the vision. I don't think there's a depth of thought about EDI. I think all we do is tick boxes.
Which begs the question, how do you find a big contractor or consultant and explain to them that if they stay with this concept, with this notion as a defining structure of our time, then it will be good business for them?
That is difficult to appreciate unless a company thinks long term and the network allows it to act long term. Companies can think long term, but the network work, the system’s ability to support that long-term thinking, is crucial. That is how we are going to make real change.
In good times, when you're making money, your bottom line is healthy, it's difficult to imagine how we can take EDI seriously. However, when crisis hits, people tend to take a few steps back and ask how do we come out of this? To do that, you need to be equipped to look deep and a broader system should emerge to give a push to those who are trying to take a longer perspective.
Fred Amonya is a member of CIHT’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Panel was in conversation with Craig Thomas
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