10 steps from Rent-A-Minority’s Arwa Mahdawi to (actually) make diversity happen

By Laura Beeston
10 steps from Rent-A-Minority’s Arwa Mahdawi to (actually) make diversity happen

It’s 2018 and there are still more men named John running major companies than women.

The reason this remains the status quo is because organizations tend to talk about diversity in “a stock, standard, unimaginative kind of way” and implement superficial, surface-level programs instead of getting to the real issues, says writer and Rent-A-Minority CEO Arwa Mahdawi.

Although study after study shows that diversity is good for business, many organizations still treat it as a defence mechanism from criticism and “don’t want to do the hard work of actually changing culture.”

A 2015 report found that moving from an all-male team to one of equal gender representation creates a 41% revenue gain. Another found that racially diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones by 35%.  

Arwa Mahdawi

Institutional sexism, racism and other blocks tend to develop when those in power positions remain largely homogeneous demographically (read: straight, white men), while entire cities, customer and company bases continue to become more diverse.

For this reason, the majority of “diversity training” tends to backfire, says Arwa, often increasing prejudice in the office by creating an us-versus-them attitude and negative assumptions.

To move past this, we must reframe how we think about the issue.


Go from talking about diversity to actually making it happen by…


  1. Reframing diversity. Rent-A-Minority resonated because it injected humour into an uncomfortable space. Humour is a powerful tool: what are others?
  2. Not thinking about this as “political correctness.” Think about it like the digital revolution: companies had to adapt or die. If you don’t change with your customer base, you will go extinct.
  3. Reducing unconscious bias. Simply reminding yourself it’s there doesn’t cut it.
  4. Enforcing a meritocracy. Unilever recently used AI in HR to take bias out of hiring and it resulted in its most diverse crop of candidates yet. A meritocracy makes things diverse.
  5. Making a difference with micro actions. Equity is not a problem we can fix with one big, sweeping solution. “Lots of little things add up to big change,” says Arwa. Call out your bro. Actively sponsor and mentor people who could use a boost. Don’t be an asshole.
  6. Reviewing the data. Look at where bias is coming in: hiring procedures, performance reviews and company surveys.
  7. Creating a great culture. Make a environment where people feel empowered to speak up when they’re uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s about removing a toxic person, too.
  8. Remembering that this is not actually about diversity. It’s about values.
  9. Repeating this mantra to yourself often: “It’s not HR’s job, it’s everybody’s job.”
  10. Taking our advice. If you choose not to evolve and to not become more diverse, you will go extinct. You can’t say you weren’t warned.

Illustration: Caroline Lavergne

Illustration: Caroline Lavergne