Increasing productivity through inclusion

Belton Flournoy Better Boards Podcast

Diversity and inclusion are not evenly distributed throughout an organisation, and the view at the board level may not correspond with reality further down. This creates missed opportunities and prevents companies from unlocking the true potential of their talent and their organisations. Often, firms can increase productivity by doing more to be truly inclusive.

In this podcast, Dr Sabine Dembkowski (Founder and Managing Partner of Better Boards) discusses increasing productivity through inclusion with Belton Flournoy, Managing Director of the Technology Consulting practice at Protiviti. Belton co-founded Protiviti UK’s LGBT+ group, which won best LGBT+ network in 2019 by the Inclusive Tech Alliance. He was shortlisted as a Top 10 Inspiring Hero in 2023 by the Investing in Ethnicity awards, is #18 on Yahoo Finance’s Top 100 Future Leaders, #15 on Yahoo Finance’s Top 100 Ethnic Minority Leaders, and is featured on the top UK Black Role models, presented by Google.  Co-founder of Pride in the City with Pride in London, Belton is also an Advisory Board Member for The Inclusion Initiative (TII) at the London School of Economics and part of the leadership team at the Technology Community 4 Racial Equality (TC4RE).

“When I was young, I looked up and didn’t see many people like me”

Belton is passionate about inclusion for two reasons. First, he feels that when you don’t see anyone like yourself, you fear society won’t allow you in certain circles. Second, he continues to see people limiting which parts of their identity they show or hide, and this holds people back from expressing their true potential. He wants to inspire people who may be as he was when he was younger – holding back or feeling like they should hold back – to step into their full potential for excellence.

“We don’t just need to focus on diversity initiatives and how they make people feel. We need to link them to the increased productivity”

Belton sees an incredible opportunity to translate the existing dialogues around diversity into more meaningful conversations linked to productivity outcomes and business results. Too often, people say diversity is important or that they care, but they don’t. They say what they believe to be the right things but then delegate away the responsibility for making change.

To bring such people more authentically into the diversity journey – and to achieve significant results – there needs to be a shift in the conversation to link diversity and inclusion with measurable, meaningful outcomes. For example, closing the technological skills gap is critical and impacts jobs and the UK GDP. Showing how increasing diversity speaks to that skills gap, moving people into better jobs, and the overall UK GDP changes the narrative, the motivation, and the buy-in for diversity and inclusion efforts.

“If you haven’t driven the true inclusion values through that middle layer, it won’t permeate through your organisation, and you might find that you think your organisation is a lot more inclusion-oriented than it really is…”

One key opportunity Belton sees for organisations is to look at how inclusion and diversity are distributed throughout the business. Many boards have done serious work on inclusion, building it into the mission, governance, and operations. Yet when you drop into the middle management layer, there’s a sharp drop-off in belief, behaviour, and execution.

Belton cites a study from McKinsey that notes that while some 80% of senior executives who are gay are out at work, only 32% of junior executives are out. It’s an example of the drop off in perceptions of acceptance, inclusion, and career safety as you move down into what Belton calls the “real guts” of a company. So, while boards may be celebrating their achievements or feeling like there’s no need to push for a significant change, the actual situation in the organisation may be quite different. To bridge this gap, Belton recommends leaning into quantitative data and metrics. Hard numbers create opportunities for concrete action steps and real accountability for change. Metrics can also remove subjectivity and false beliefs from the inclusion and diversity process, helping behavioural and belief shifts permeate equally from the top to the bottom of the organisation.

“The goal is to create research that helps organisations drive inclusion through evidence-based research”

Belton sees many organisations dealing with inclusion and diversity by conducting surveys and reporting their interpretation of the survey results. This approach lacks rigour. This is part of why he devotes so much time to research partnerships, to help create strictly measured and robust studies that can drive change with hard evidence about what’s happening and what works.

For example, in a study about inclusion during remote work, researchers found that women and minorities were adversely impacted by remote work arrangements, especially during the COVID-19 years. Employees who needed something or someone for a project tended to lean on those they knew well or in-group members rather than going out to more diverse workmates, compared to how project work was distributed in the office. Another new study reveals that the primary barrier to advancement for women in the workplace lies with middle managers with mediocre performance ratings. This speaks directly to the need to educate and instil values down through every layer of each company to ensure talented workers aren’t being unnecessarily blocked from reaching their potential.

“What you need to do is realise your voice is valid from day one”

Belton feels there are two things which have helped him rise. First, he rejects a fixed mindset and focuses on cultivating a growth mindset. This is especially important as one grows older since there is a tendency to revert to a fixed mindset, but change and growth are only possible when one believes oneself capable of growing and changing. Secondly, he cultivates an internal locus of control. Rather than assigning control of his life to others or believing that an externally controlled system is responsible for his life outcomes, he works to frame situations in terms of what he can control and take action on.

Further, he advises other diverse individuals who find themselves rising in organisations or sitting on boards to embrace the validity of their presence and their opinions. There is a tendency to hold back or to adopt a watch-and-learn position. Instead, Belton recommends accepting that you were put in that position for a reason, that your insights and perspective are valued and wanted, and that you must express what you see as needed for improvement or change. If you lack confidence, remember that all leadership abilities are skills that can be learned and layered into the unique perspective you bring. Plus, by continually looking to be involved yourself – not just speaking in support, but doing – you allow your skills as a leader and an individual performer to align with your words for maximum impact, education, and inspiration to others.

“Part of our role is to find that untapped potential, to release it in our organisations, and to secrete that energy and drive to get people to really want to work for our brand, our values, and our mission”

Belton recalls being at a TLC Lions awards ceremony where one of the honoured young men said, “I never thought I’d be somewhere like this. I hope everyone realises that my ceiling was your floor. I’ve shattered everything I thought I was capable of.” It stuck with him because people with incredible talent often do not believe in themselves. If the organisation can help them see what is possible and guide them toward achieving it, then all this potential is unlocked. You will see far fewer departures, and your organisational productivity will skyrocket.

The three top takeaways from our conversation are:

  • Create a personal board. As a senior leader, it is hard to get good feedback. So, identify three to six people to talk to about your career between one and four times a year, in a professional context. This will transform how you get feedback on challenging issues and help you have a priceless sounding board.
  • Realise the voice in your head is just a voice. You don’t have to listen to it. You can ignore or challenge it, which is especially useful for overcoming negative internal narratives.
  • Contribute to the productivity research of the future. Complete the ongoing survey on generational productivity from the London School of Economics and Protiviti. You can complete it here:    


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