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Spontaneous global social media campaigns have during the summer 2021 called out sexism, discrimination, racism, homophobia, and lack of diversity, and representation. New generations expect that we begin to do things differently. Major sports events during this Summer should now be a catalyst for urgent change and serve as an inspiration for enterprises around the world. The importance of making inclusion, diversity, and equality (DEI) and mental health a strategic priority is clear and the only way to capture the hearts and minds of the younger generations. DEI is no longer a nice to have but a need to have and it is a leadership responsibility. Enterprises that want to be relevant, respected and a leading attractive brand for new generations must get a mental health practice in place and their DEI ducks in a row now.
Enterprises that embrace DEI in all aspect of their business statistically outperform their peers. It is a key driver for innovation, creativity, products, results, profit, and better decisions – challenged perspectives and decisions. Lack of DEI can unintentionally lead to poor judgment and disrespect. DEI and mental health practices are no longer something you should have as a respected enterprise; it is a need to navigate and be relevant in a new era. The new generations celebrate and expect diversity in broadest possible sense e.g., people of different genders, races and ethnicities, abilities and disabilities, neuro and mental health, religions, cultures, ages, and sexual orientations and people with different expertise and educational backgrounds. The summer of 2021 has kicked off a new era that makes DEI in leadership and the boardroom a must. #PurpleWashing is yesterday news and urgent actions must lead the way. Leadership teams who are not able to put the organizations mission above their own ego and develop a DEI culture with mental health as a priority is a dangerous cocktail that can be fatal. DEI is no longer just the right thing to do, it is vital to make the right decisions in an increasingly complex world, deliver relevant products, be an attractive employer and avoid public embarrassment.
It is no longer enough with internal wishful glossy DEI power points and fluffy words about how important it is – walk the talk. DEI targets, strategic initiatives, review of privileges, anti-discriminating structures together with training of all people and review and re-design HR initiatives and systems is a given. Reward and celebrate the internal behaviors that actively contribute to achievement of the targets in performance reviews and other important events. DEI at all levels of an organization is now a requirement for delivering the right products, services, and decisions. Together with the creation of an open culture where employees can feel a sense of belonging, being authentic and believe their opinions matters and they can influence decisions. Blind spots can be a costly hazard and damaging for even well-established enterprises success. Challenge their own privileges and run-on autopilot. Enterprise’s risk social media shaming both locally and globally and becoming irrelevant and an unattractive brand and employer. The Norwegian women beach handball players were fined 1,500 euros total for “improper clothing,” according to the EHF Disciplinary Commission. The players refused to play in the required “max 10 cm high panties” from the International & European Handball Federation (IHF & EHF). There were no “max 10 cm speedo” requirement for the male players. They are allowed to play in tank tops and shorts no longer than 4 inches above the knee. Double standards in action. The lack of DEI in IHF and EHF governing committee has been harmful and made them a global laughingstock. The Handball Federation leaders in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, only male, are finally requesting this sexist discriminating rule to be changed. A rule the spokeswoman for the IHF not even was able to explain the reasoning behind. But where were the same Scandinavian leaders when the “max 10 cm” decision was made? Why did no one question a ridiculous rule internally? Why should IHF & EHF decide what women feel comfortable playing in? The German women gymnastic athletes were all participating in the Tokyo Olympics in full-length unitards, which is not an against official rules. For the women it was all about creating equity and combat sexualization in their sport. A clear attack on the sexism associated with women’s sports and what they wear. A sport where sexual harassment and abuse have imprisoning leaders in US. “We wanted to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear,” said German athlete, Elisabeth Seitz. We have just experienced several Olympic winners actively express DEI political statements on the podium. The IOC Executive Board is not happy, and the winners do not care. Welcome to a new generation of athletes and a new world with purpose-driven, self-directed, and confident individuals that are radically diverse and inclusive and connecting through various truths. Gen Zs are all in for DEI, they are voting with their feet and know how to create a harmful social media campaign. They can make or break entire enterprises, and they are not afraid to let their wallets speak. The sport brand Nike have spent a lot of time and money on presenting itself as a leading DEI brand. However, Olympic Runner Allyson Felix was given a pay cut by Nike, after she gave birth. Together with Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher, she courageously broke her nondisclosure agreement to make a change for other women. Now Allyson Felix is coming home from Tokyo Olympics with 11 medals, and Nike has a damaged brand and need to examine their ethics and behavior.
In swimming the newly designed “Soul Cap” to accommodate for diverse hair types was banned from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by the swimming governing body FINA. The decision to ban the “Soul Cap” after social media campaign is now being reviewed. The Badminton World Federation decreed the women players must wear skirts or dresses to play at the elite level, and the same goes for tennis etc... #DontTellWomenWhatToWear.
Leading sports figures, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka are changing the narrative when it comes to mental health and are leading a needed change in sports and enterprises. Talking openly about mental health challenges, trusting their own judgement and demonstrative strength and courage – authentic leadership. For the new generations mental health is not destigmatized as a tabu and more important than gold medals and profit. While some individuals in the older generations do not understand their decision and shame them on “Old School” Facebook, their actions are celebrated on TikTok and Instagram. Their legacy should serve as a reminder for enterprises to make mental health a priority if it is not already. It has never been more important for enterprises to research and understand the root causes of mental health challengers among their people – and create or update programs based on their learning.
The International and European Football Association (UEFA & FIFA) and other international leading sports federations are in the same hopeless situation. Again, and again, major sporting events are given to countries where the president of the country inherits state power and have a proven track record with lack of democracy and human rights. Now the players in various countries demonstrate their support to democracy and human rights. The English football players have for a long time taking the knee before their matches to increase awareness about the racism in football. Apparently, UEFA has not noticed this visible action and demonstration. At Wembley, four white middle-aged men handed out medals while three young footballers were victims of racial attacks after missed penalties. Again, no diversity from UEFA. No representation. No critical stand on own privileges. The Danish players was forced to play after Christian Eriksen’s heart attack. The players' mental health is apparently not important to UEFA. Finally, the rainbow colors, flag and commercials were banned from stadiums. The audience brought their own Rainbows flag and celebrated LGBTQIA+. #RepresentationsMatters Snickers Spain has just launched a homophobic TV commercial for their ice cream. Apparently, it was supposed to be funny. This advertisement was quickly withdrawn after calling for a boycott. An official apology has been given with regret for the misunderstanding their advertising has created. Previous generations have been forgiving, but the new generations are not. Why was this decision not challenged and dismissed internally? All these discriminating cases and double standards could and should have been challenged internally and avoided by being a truly DEI enterprise with an open, agile, trustworthy culture. Times are changing fast now, and new generations are expecting DEI and mental health practices as a given. It is time to step up and review and update programs, policies, strategies that encourage representation and participation of diverse groups of people. Be part of creating a brighter future and make your enterprise relevant. Be the bold leader in the new DEI era where Millennials and Gen Zs make up more than half the world’s population and live life pragmatically and wish to change the world. Enterprises who will be able to capture the hearts and minds of the younger generations will have the brightest future.
Author Charlotte Søndergaard August 2021