In episode two of the IBC’s Changemaker series of Podcasts, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at Warner Brothers Discovery, Asif Sadiq spoke with Nadira Tudor to discuss how to inspire long-term change and create policies that make a real impact.

Sadiq began by setting out his stall, highlighting one of the key questions around DEI: “I think the last couple of years in this space has changed a lot. We’ve seen a lot of progress, a lot of change. But I think one of the most important things is to acknowledge that diversity does look different globally, and I think that is more and more important now as companies truly are global.

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IBC Chagnemakers Podcast: Beyond the corporate plan - Learning to get DEI right

“Also I think [an important question is] just understanding ‘what is diversity’? Diversity isn’t a singular dimension or one thing, every single person listening in to this will not be defined by one element yet we define people by these boxes we’ve created. I’m made up of multiple layers of diversity, from my ethnicity, to my faith to the fact that I’m a dad to two young kids, and all those elements are just as important [as each other]. But how we truly understand those authentic elements is the key piece when we think about global diversity.”

He continued to address his main theme, that of ensuring that DEI progress is not a temporary flash in the pan, but builds toward long-term improvement and sustainable change. “I think in the last couple of years, we’ve had a lot of what I call ‘random acts of diversity’. So good intentions, great acts, one offs that don’t really create any sustainable change, or any true movement. We’re talking about, ‘oh, diversity is great and we feel really good about it’ and then we go back to doing what we’re doing. What we’re trying to do is truly weave in diversity into our business, creating that long term sustainable change.”

Sadiq emphasised the importance of learning from past mistakes, as well as the central value of collaboration and safety to discuss DEI issues: “My view always has been that in the diversity space, it is about diversity of thought [as well as] diversity of experience. So that we can disagree on something but we can still work together, we can still come together to produce exceptional results.

“That piece is going to be critical for us all going into the future - how do we create systems and environments where we learn from our mistakes, where we can disagree but still come together? There’s a huge fear of saying the wrong thing, getting diversity wrong, being ‘cancelled’, and those elements don’t help growth. We need to create psychological safety in order to have some of those conversations in order to learn - if I say something, or if I get something wrong, how does that become a learning opportunity for us to grow?”

Listen to Episode 2: Asif Sadiq Beyond the corporate plan: Learning to get DEI right

Another vital area touched on in conversation was the importance of being able to have DEI discussions in a language that decision makers understand, to accelerate progress and ensure top down buy-in.

“The thing is, can you speak the language of the decision makers? Diversity might be more of a difficult topic sometimes for some leaders, where there’s elements of it they don’t understand or they don’t truly, truly see. So, how do you match that language, ensure you’re pitching in a way that it is talking their language, but at the same time you’re still highlighting what’s important, why it matters, and you’re using it as an educational moment. I think that’s the critical thing, how do you take this momentum and use it to drive positive change, asked Sadiq.

“In all honesty, if I go back 20 years when I first started my career, diversity used to be ‘let’s set up a stall, handout a few balloons and a few pens and the job was done’. Luckily, in the last couple of years, there’s been more momentum, a lot more doors are open, people are ready to listen but we need to use this time to really embed some of those positive things.”

”I always talk about DEI as being critical to our business, critical to the success of who we are, whether that be from retaining, recruiting the best employees or whether it’s around creating the best product services, content and so on. When you see it that way, then it’s critical to your business.”

A final thought from Sadiq captured the central plank of advice neatly: “I think the biggest advice would be to ensure that you really do build that long term sustainable change. Over the years I’ve seen all those actions. I’ve seen all those feel good moments. And as great as they are, they don’t change anything. You will be having the same conversations in 12 months time. But if you’re truly going to change this space, it is about the long term.

It’s about creating the systems that truly allow us to have different conversations. Even with the pipeline [for young people] - are we going back to schools? Are we encouraging more young people to study subjects in media and broadcasting and so on to get them in?

“Yes, that won’t have an impact on us today. But at least in two years, the next group of people trying to break into this industry will be a lot more diverse in that respect. So it is about the long term, long term change, long term gains - you need to have a long term strategy that truly invents the change you want…”

See all Changemakers Podcast Episodes, including upcoming Episode 3:

No time to mourn our future: A new deal for climate change - available Friday 25 August

Check out the IBC2023 Changemakers line-up