Dealing with Adverse and Difficult Situations: From Pitch to Desk

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In today’s global work environment, diversity is crucial. Moral obligations aside, a mixed workforce creates a team’s identity which directly impacts on a company’s performance.

Diversity in the workplace can concern, but is not limited to issues of race, religion, skin colour, sexual orientation, gender, physical and mental disabilities, beliefs and social backgrounds. The issue has driven countless meetings, conferences and conversations made by business leaders trying to fathom what diversity means so that they can make it work for their team. But on this occasion, look through the office window to the playing field outside; many solutions are on display.

It is a paradox that sport, something that grew from our need to take life less seriously, has answers when it comes to tackling something as crucial as diversity in the workplace. But throughout our complex history of societies coming together, sport has always been one step ahead. It is the ultimate meritocracy; the fastest, strongest or quickest wins while unimportant characteristics – nationality, social background – fall away.


Powered by this fundamental fairness, many athletes have been able to use their high profile to fly a flag of inclusivity beyond the track or playing field so that the wider world can see the success and sense of inclusivity.


Since coming out publicly as gay in 2009, Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas has inspired countless others who have experienced similar difficulty in dealing with their sexual orientation. After unspeakable personal turmoil, Thomas is now comfortable with his identity and is now living to his true potential. Beyond a world class rugby star, he has become a hero engendering the power of understanding and diversity.

Thomas’s success is just one of the many examples that substantiate the view of professor William Gasparini of the University of Strasbourg, who says beyond “an instrument of social integration” sport is “a means of furthering intercultural understanding in an ever-more diversified Europe.” However, the business world cannot pretend to be on the same wavelength.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple CEO, recently wrote “I am proud to be gay” in the Bloomberg Businessweek. But the 53 year old business chief lamented, “Still, there are laws on the books in a majority of states that allow employers to fire people based solely on their sexual orientation… Countless people, particularly kids, face fear and abuse every day because of their sexual orientation.”

Clearly diversity is not limited to sexual orientation. Employees constantly behave according to currents of prejudice, whether real or anticipated, and this undermines the productivity of professional teams and our wellbeing as a society.

Businesses needing to wake-up and smell the ethical coffee should note that more diverse workplaces are more sustainable and successful.

Research conducted by Harvard Business Review has shown how businesses with leaders who exhibit a specific variety of diversity traits “out innovate and out-perform [other businesses].” Such leaders foster an environment more open to ‘outside the box’ ideas; their employees are 45 per cent more likely to report that their company’s market share grew over the previous year and 70 per cent more likely to state that their firm captured a new market.

On the other hand it was found that under less diverse leadership, women are 20 per cent less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas, people of colour 24 per cent less likely and LGBT individuals 21 per cent less likely. Besides nurturing an environment of inequality, these workplaces can wave goodbye to key opportunities as when they fail to perceive and take advantage of demand in under-leveraged markets.

The study also found that when at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end user, “the entire team better understands that user”. A team with a member who shares a client’s ethnicity is 152 per cent more likely to understand that client that another team member.

Still not convinced? A report written by equalityhumanrights.com has found that commitment to fairer practice in the fields of recruitment, training, development and promotion increases employee satisfaction, broadens the range of applications for job vacancies and lowers staff turnover.

A firm’s future competitivity is also at stake, according to research conducted by the Journal of Small Business Management. Studies found that diversity can be tackled by training employees in diversity concepts or by “changing personnel policies, compensation and benefits to accommodate diversity in the labour force.”

Incorporating diversity may involve broadening recruitment so that employees are drawn from a range of backgrounds, thus maximising ability to access candidates who are most qualified for positions available. It may be integrated into marketing practices to maximise the customers being targeted through print, online, radio or television.

While initial commitments may be expensive, businesses will come to appreciate and value the power of diversity to enrich teams with fresh ideas and perspectives.

Tim Cook said that coming out has given him “the skin of a rhinoceros”. Beyond dermatological concerns, the message is clear: Get more diverse, get more powerful on every level. Inclusivity in the workplace is not a passing fad but a key to future success.

About The Author

Nine years ago Steve was lying in a hospital bed, following back surgery, having just been told his professional rugby union career of almost 10 years was over! Steve had no firm retirement plans in place, had done no structured preparation, had basic qualifications and just 4 years experience as a rookie Police officer to draw on, the future was a bleak and scary place!!

Fast forward nine challenging years and since retiring from professional sport Steve has successfully worked predominantly in the internet and sportswear industries. He was the founder of online rugby retail company just4rugby, which was built from a standing start to become the second highest ranked online rugby retail company in the UK. Steve also created sportswear brand, just4sport, working successfully in the Middle East and Eastern Europe in particular.

As a proud, retired, Welsh International, Barbarian and experienced entrepreneur Steve is passionate about creating the smoothest transition possible for today’s elite athletes. Steve is responsible for the development of ACT’s Business Partnerships and works closely with ACT’s Advisory Team and Business Partners ensuring that work placements on the ACT pathway are structured, meaningful and valuable for both the athlete and the Business Partner.


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