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The rise of the free-rider diversity champion

2020 was the year of diversity and inclusion: from Black Lives Matter, to company’s diversity reports shared publicly, to unconscious bias training galore, the events of 2020 created a new awareness of diversity and inclusion. Many individuals and organizations found a new interest in this topic and some even started calling themselves diversity champions. As more business leaders and organisations contacted me for my expert advice and speaking engagements on diversity and inclusion, I started noticing a pattern: many organisations wanted a free ride! A significant number of professionals wanted me to work for free. So much so that I decided to write an article about this new phenomenon to expose the truth and raise awareness about this harmful trend. Who are the free-rider diversity champions? What kind of behaviour do they exhibit? How this free-rider approach is symptomatic of how organisations approach diversity? We will explore all of the above below.

Who are the free-rider diversity champions?

As I received an increasing number of enquiries for my diversity services over the past few months, i was able to observe and recognize different types of free-rider diversity champions. Although they all want free diversity services, they belong to different, distinct groups, which are worth discussing.

1) CEOs

Often the CEO of a medium sized company, this type of free-rider diversity champion is after some free advice on diversity for their company. This type of free-rider diversity champion typically contacts me on Linkedin and asks for a free review of a new diversity policy or plan. This individual typically runs a medium size organisation and is after some free diversity advice.

2) Senior Leadership Team Members

They might be the Chief People Officer, the Chief Operations Officer of a medium size organisation. They usually think they know everything about diversity and inclusion and when they speak with me, the diversity expert, they like to tell me how to do diversity and inclusion and they don’t listen. They are typically after a lot of free tips and tactical advice they can use, although they are not willing to pay for it.

3) Managers or Team Leaders

This type of individual might be a Team Leader or a Manager of a regional team in a large enterprise organisation. They are usually extremely confident about their own, outstanding diversity and inclusion skills, as well as their organisation’s superb implementation of diversity. They absolutely believe they are doing everything perfectly fine when it comes to diversity and inclusion, yet they want me to share with them free insight into what other organisations are doing, as well as free advice and tips on diversity best practices.

4) Conference Program Managers and Event Planners

They might be in charge of recruiting keynote speakers for their conference, or they might be recruiting speakers for a small customer event and they claim that they absolutely value my work and my insight yet they don’t have any budget for me to speak about diversity and inclusion. They are usually genuinely expecting a free speaking engagement for their event, although they also claim they value my expertise and are, themselves, absolute diversity champions.

What kind of behaviour do they exhibit?

1) They want a free review of their diversity policy and goals

The most common request is for a free review and advice regarding their newly developed diversity policy and goals. They ask for a full analysis, evaluation, audit and examination of their new diversity programme, completely free of charge. As soon as I mention that this work will require payment, they tune out of the conversation.

2) They ask for a free consultancy and advice

The second most common request is for a free consultancy. In this case, the request is about how they should start their diversity programme, which steps should come first, what they should take into consideration. Often, in this scenario, the request is also about a ton of insight into what other organisations are doing in the market to get a benchmark. As per the other requests, the individual expects to have this work done completely free of charge.

3) They want a free speaking engagement

In this scenario, the individual wants a free speaking engagement. They want a free keynote session, or a free workshop on diversity and inclusion for their conference or for their customer event. They expect this work to be done completely free and claim that this will be good for the speaker because of the exposure and awareness. In the approach, they completely disregard the amount of work that goes into speaking.

4) They ask for a free webinar, a free guide, free content

This is another common request from the free-rider diversity champion. They want some free content to use for their customers. They are after some free webinar, free guides and free educational content on diversity and inclusion so they can use it as a marketing asset to target their customers and prospects. They also want to get this done completely free of charge.

How this free-rider approach is symptomatic of a harmful diversity approach?

In this free-rider diversity champion approach, the self-proclaimed diversity champions genuinely think of themselves as outstanding diversity champions. The individual has a very strong belief that not only are they an outstanding ally and supporter of diversity and inclusion, but they in fact act as a great ally because they are speaking with a diversity expert about their diversity idea. In their own mind, the free-rider diversity champions are doing a fantastic job with diversity and inclusion and the diversity expert should be lucky to be part of their project - as long as they don’t charge for their work!

The free-rider diversity champion says that diversity is important but as soon as we mention budget, they say that now is not the best time to focus on diversity and inclusion. They never prepare any budget for diversity and inclusion yet they firmly believe they are doing a great job at diversity and inclusion.

One danger of the free-rider diversity champion approach is that because they don’t invest in diversity and inclusion, they don’t get the expertise they so desperately need and they end up doing a poor job that is actually counterproductive and harmful to diversity and inclusion. The free-rider diversity champion doesn’t have any solid diversity programme in place with goals and leadership involvement.

Another danger of the free-rider diversity champion approach is that this aligns with the wrong perception that diversity is a moral imperative and the right thing to do. This approach completely misunderstands how diversity is a secret competitive advantage and this is counterproductive and harmful as this positions diversity the wrong way.

What should be done?

It is becoming clear who truly takes action to support diversity and inclusion , and who only talks and doesn’t take any meaningful action when it comes to diversity. But the truth is that those self-proclaimed diversity champions are being recognised and exposed by the members of the public who are themselves more educated than ever before on the topics of diversity and inclusion. Socially conscious and educated employees, stakeholders, customers, vendors and members of the public now recognise those free-rider diversity champions and speak up about their lack of action. Smart leaders should take note now to avoid embarrassing situations for themselves and their organisation.

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