In precarious times, IVE make the case for diversity in creative, resilient teams

19th November 2020 - Susie Newton

Although we've come a long way in recent years, there’s still work to be done to make our industries more inclusive. Here, Rosi Lister, CEO, Sarah Mumford, Programmes Director, and Sarah Beckett, Cultural Education Manager, share why they believe every workplace must foster inclusive practices in gender, ethnicity, physical and neurodiversity, sexual orientation and religious contexts.

A version of this article was first published on the 19th of November 2020 by CIN News.

Diversity and inclusion has been a focus across industry for decades. From the Arts Council’s Creative Case for Diversity, to exemplary initiatives within international brands such as IBM and Google. As an organisation who work towards creating creative and inclusive workplaces and developing the potential of diverse groups of young people, IVE always look to identify and share best practice around diversity and inclusion.

However, for all the progress we’ve seen and supported, this summer felt like a difficult moment, as violent institutions and an incredibly impactful Black Lives Matter movement made stark the progress yet to be made. International protests against widespread police brutality and systemic racism, across institutions public and private, have sparked micro-movements in a plethora of organisations, but it is crucial to move this momentum from the news cycle, and into every level of every industry.

What we can learn from the Black Lives Matter movement

The killing of George Floyd in 2020, witnessed by many globally via social media, drew wide attention to the problem of entrenched racism in American and other dominant white societies globally. Black Lives Matter (BLM), was established in 2013 in the USA as a global, social, decentralised and grassroots movement, dedicated to fighting racism and anti-Black violence, such as police brutality. It formed in response to a series of unlawful killings of black people by police and demands that society value the lives and humanity of black people as much as it values the lives and humanity of white people. BLM activists protested deaths at the hands of police or while in police custody of many other black people, including Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, and Breonna Taylor. Across the Atlantic, movements brought attention to the UK’s own problems of institutional racism, the problematic remnants of imperial history in our museums and on our streets the lack of black history in the curriculum – especially pertinent during Black History Month (as if a month could make up for the impacts of a white-washed history curriculum the rest of the year round).

There is a lot to be inspired by in the structure of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, from its beginnings in social media, to its “leaderful” decision to have no single figure-head, but to encourage leadership qualities throughout its workings, to its vital and concise message, “Black Lives Matter”. The lack of any one perceived “figurehead” is as strategic as it is inclusive. BLM co-founder, Opal Tometi celebrated this in a recent interview, “what we’re trying to do now is be stronger than we ever were before. Leaders are everywhere. Yes, one might go, but there will be ten more that pop up.”[1]

The case for diversity in creative teams

At IVE, we’ve spent over 20 years analysing, nurturing and advocating for creativity across the board. Time and time again, diversity and inclusion have informed our approach, and grown our understanding of the synergies of creativity and inclusion and the conditions needed for both to thrive. We’re not the only ones to have noticed: an overwhelming body of academic research confirms the potential for a diversity dividend within creative teams. A 2010 meta-analysis of 108 studies found that “diverse teams experienced the process gain of increased creativity”[2], and studies from CIPD[3], to the Arts Council[4], to Google[5] expand and solidify this concept.

It follows that leaders who recognise diversity as a creative resource and deliberately nurture both diversity and creativity in their teams, reap the largest benefits. This is all the more relevant in the context of Covid-19. Businesses face a paradigm shift in terms of transformation. We don’t know what the new normal looks like yet and the old normal is no longer a useful benchmark. Recovery is dependent on diverse teams being empowered to contribute to the best of their abilities. Resilience will rely on an organisational culture that ignites creativity and drives innovation.

Diversity ensures a problem or opportunity is encountered from a range of perspectives; born of different experiences, developed from different philosophies and in different environments. The ability to look at the same thing in a range of different ways ensures divergent thinking (or thinking outside the box) occurs as standard. But diversity without inclusive planning and practices can be entirely below the mark, and at its worst, it can create a hostile culture for diverse staff. A climate of intentional inclusion is vital to harness these gains because creative teamwork is “an area where cognitive diversity can be both potentially beneficial and problematic.”[6]

When Lou Gerstner became CEO of IBM in 1993, he realised that despite having a progressive management culture with equality at its heart, IBM still didn’t have a workforce that represented US society as a whole. Gerstner knew it made business sense to be able to appeal to as broad a customer base as possible, so he introduced a change. In 1995 he introduced eight employee based “Diversity Task Forces”. Each group was focused on a different protected characteristic. The goal of each group was to explore the nature of the ‘difference’ and come up with recommendations for altering products or creating new ones that specifically responded to that minority group as a customer base. Customers understood that IBM was listening, and representing them. Revenue subsequently went from $10m to $300m in three years and the Diversity Task Force initiative became a cornerstone of IBM Human Resources strategy[7].

The danger of short-lived or superficial approaches to diversity and inclusion

Too many unconscious bias training courses offer a seductive, but ultimately misleading proposition: “train your workforce once and you will never have to worry about unconscious bias again.” This approach is ineffective because superficial, awareness-raising courses may lead participants to assume that they are invulnerable to the effects of their unconscious biases. They’ve done the training, so they don’t need to check themselves anymore. This phenomenon is known as moral licensing[8]. Its flipside is the paralysing guilt experienced by some participants when training takes a shaming approach. Simply telling somebody that they are biased without suggesting strategies to reduce the impact of those biases is disempowering.

Organisations need to adopt a reflective approach to organizational change, and set up cyclical processes which promote continuous improvement towards the lofty aim of true inclusivity. This aligns with the CIPD’s recent finding that diversity training does promote both knowledge and skills when certain conditions are met[9], these conditions include:

training which takes place over multiple sessions.
training which covers awareness and skills.
training being tailored to the audience.
training focusing on how inclusion can be embedded and integrated with wider organisational development.
There is so much change needed, it cannot be the focus of any small number, that’s why we encourage an organizational approach that does not burden any one group, team or individual, but addresses a whole organisation. What is clear, is that the need for contemporary pluralism in gender, ethnicity, physical and neurodiversity, sexual orientation and religious contexts is a vital and pragmatic philosophy that all ‘future-ready’ workplace teams need to adopt, regardless of their sector.


[1] Jones, Ellen E., 2020, Opal Tometi, co-founder of Black Lives Matter: ‘I do this because we deserve to live’, The Guardian. []

[2] Stahl, Mazneyski, Voigt & Jonsen, 2010, Unravelling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural work groups, Journal of International Business Studies, Vol 41 (4), pp690-709.

[3] Green, Melanie, 2018, Diversity and inclusion at work: facing up to the business case, CIPD News. []

[4] Arts Council, 2020, The Creative Case for Diversity. []

[5] Google, 2020, Google Diversity Annual Report. []

[6] Kurtzberg, 2005, Feeling Creative, Being Creative: An Empirical Study of Diversity and Creativity in Teams, Creativity Research Journal, Vol. 17 (1), pp51–65.

[7] Thomas, David A. Harvard Business Review. 2004, Vol. 82 Issue 9, pp98-108.

[8] Pless & Maak, 2004, Building an Inclusive Diversity Culture: Principles, Processes and Practice, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol 54, pp129–147.

[9] CIPD, 2019, Diversity Management that Works: An evidence-based view.

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