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Recent social justice movements across the globe reminded leaders of the need for more diverse and inclusive teams. The momentum behind some of 2020’s most high profile movements inevitably spurred a broader discussion around whether companies were doing enough to ensure an inclusive work environment, according to the 2021 Randstad diversity and inclusion report.

With a focus on leadership, diversity, and inclusion, the latest instalment of Randstad’s monthly webinar series featured four-time Premiership winner, England and British & Irish Lion legend, Maro Itoje*. Throughout the discussion it became clear that there is much businesses can learn from the game of rugby:

Statistics from the RFU suggest: “Despite growth of the women’s game and the most diverse England men’s team ever, compared to the overall England adult population, those who participate in Rugby Union are significantly less likely to be female, or of an ethic minority and of the lowest socio-economic group. 57% of those involved in the game agree that rugby is representative of the local community it is in, but only 31% agree it is representative of the general population.”

In terms of the benefits of diversity, where do you start? Looking at it from a purely sporting point of view, if you have a wider pool of players you have more talent to select from; if you have more players to select from you have more competition, which in turn drives performance. If you have a wider, diverse group of people who have different thoughts, thinking patterns, experiences and backgrounds - in terms of problem solving, you have a greater chance of success. This is definitely something business leaders should be reminded about, and need to keep at the top of their agendas.

Maro Itoje

To find out more about the make up of leadership teams around the country, we polled over 400 jobseekers. Findings from the 2021 website poll revealed that:

  • 28% said that their senior leadership team is an even mix of men and women
  • Just under a fifth (19%) said their leadership team was predominantly female
  • More than half (53%) said their company leaders were predominantly male  

Speaking on the importance of a diverse team, Maro added: “Diversity has a number of positive benefits for everyone involved. I think it’s relatively similar to those in businesses, from a cognitive point of view. If you have a wide and varied workforce, you can pull from different experiences, you can learn from each other.”

As highlighted in the Randstad 2021 diversity and inclusion report; “Companies with more diverse staff demographics tend to be more productive, with McKinsey finding that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have better financial returns than national industry medians.”

While the research carried out by McKinsey highlights the importance of diversity within organisations, unsurprisingly, the benefits expand way further than productivity, regardless of the team setting. Reinforcing this notion, Laura McAllister, chair of Sport Wales and professor of governance at the University of Liverpool's School of Management said:

"By really selling the virtue of diversity and to show that, for a few reasons, that a good workforce is a workforce at ease with itself. So if you have an individual in any workforce - whether that's in education or sport or the media - who isn't relaxed about who he or she is, or isn't able to be open and honest, then you're not really tapping into the true potential of that individual."

What we desire to promote is not making people employ those who they don’t want to employ. What we want is employment purely based on merit, capability and equal opportunity.

We don't want a situation where individuals from a certain demographic, social class or ethnicity are treated differently or spotlighted based on those elements. This shouldn't become a determining factor in deciding whether or not if the person is suitable for the job. It should purely be based on merit. Any way in which we can assure that is the case, we need to put that forward. Moreso in business than in sport, sport tends to be a bit more meritocratic than business.

Maro Itoje

Speaking on what other sports can learn from Rugby Union in terms of diversity, attitude, respect and humility, Maro commented:

“In terms of diversity, rugby can take some learnings from other sports, to be honest. Football for example has a more diverse range of players than rugby. What other sports however can learn from rugby, is respect. That’s a big one. Considering how aggressive rugby is as a sport, the level of respect that players have for one another, the match officials and even the general level of respect that fans demonstrate is admirable.

I have friends who are predominantly football fans that are surprised when they come to watch a rugby match, and may be sitting next to other fans from different nationalities and backgrounds, watching the game amicably, with total respect from one another. 

One of the great things about rugby is its culture. It’s predicated on respect, treating people fairly, being a good sportsperson, and that is one of the things about rugby that should be celebrated and encouraged.” 

Similar to sports teams, organisations have a vital role to play in building society back better, to help tackle inequalities which have widened because of the pandemic, improving livelihoods, embracing diversity, nurturing talent, and leaving no one behind. It is now more important than ever to ensure diversity and inclusion doesn’t fall off the agenda.

Maro raised some incredibly insightful and thought-provoking discussion points in our webinar around what organisations can learn from sport. Not just in terms of values and leadership, but also in terms of respect and who we advocate for.

Laura Todd, Director of Inclusion and Wellbeing at Randstad

For advice on areas of consideration to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace, download the Randstad 2021 diversity and inclusion in the workplace report

*Exclusive access to Maro Itoje has been made possible following the announcement of Randstad's new partnership with Premiership title-winning Saracens Rugby club, following a multi-year working relationship.