Lionel Paolella.

EDI is about making our workplace a better place

22 July 2022

The article at a glance

Lionel Paolella, Associate Professor in Strategy & Organisation at Cambridge Judge Business School, shares his thoughts as the new Chairperson of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee at Cambridge Judge.

Lionel Paolella, Associate Professor in Strategy & Organisation at Cambridge Judge Business School, is the new Chairperson of the EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) Committee at the School. His research has often revolved around EDI-related topics, and he is currently working on several academic papers exploring the effect of female representation in senior leadership positions, as well as best practices to bring racial diversity to professional service firms. Lionel has championed gender diversity at Cambridge Judge through his longstanding support of the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre (WLC) activities and as a member of the WLC’s research network. In addition, Lionel offers internal diversity training to Cambridge Judge staff, and teaches EDI sessions in several programmes including MBA, Executive MBA and Executive Education.

The EDI Committee is the leading body for the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion agenda at Cambridge Judge. Formed in November 2021, its purpose is to develop the EDI strategy and to drive tangible and sustainable change working with student clubs, faculty, staff and alumni networks across the School and the wider University.

Lionel shares his thoughts on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion issues, the new EDI Committee at Cambridge Judge, and why diversity should matter to everyone:

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is not just a numbers game. Numbers matter, but how those numbers came to be, and how they work with each other, is quite possibly even more important. For the success of our EDI strategy, we should of course achieve a high level of diversity, while adopting a fair and equitable treatment for all people. And we shouldn’t neglect the inclusion of everyone.

My vision for the new role as Chairperson of the EDI Committee at Cambridge Judge is to broaden the scope of EDI. EDI initiatives primarily focus on discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability, but I believe Cambridge Judge should take a broader view of discrimination. For example, we should include, in our frameworks, class as well as religious beliefs, among many other characteristics. We would like to develop not only characteristics-based initiatives but also need-based initiatives to make sure to be truly inclusive.

Improving diversity and inclusion in Higher Education is a significant leadership challenge. To be successful, we need to involve all decision-makers, especially those who may not feel directly concerned by such initiatives, for example white males who have traditionally not felt discrimination.

The EDI Committee initiative was launched by Dean Mauro Guillén with the objective to coordinate all EDI activities throughout the School, and make them more consistent and systematic. The purpose is also to reach consensus around EDI: the Committee should be a safe space to discuss initiatives, submit proposals and exchange ideas, even if sometimes we might be in disagreement, have different opinions or priorities.

Recent research suggests that several organisations have obtained consistently positive results with tactics that do not focus on control. Instead, they apply three basic principles: engaging all decision-makers in solving the problem; exposing them to people from different groups; and encouraging social accountability for change. My priorities will be to help further develop these three dimensions within Cambridge Judge, for example by creating formal mentoring programmes with a “mix and match approach” (engagement); developing inter-groups training and platforms, which allow people to work together on projects as equals (exposure); and setting up the EDI committee as an accountability structure to monitor the progress (accountability).”

There is an important fifth dimension to EDI research that I am exploring. EDI research has generally focused on gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability – which are all important topics – but research on social-economic status has been underdeveloped. While researching EDI, you quickly realise that cultural differences are, most of the time, due to social class differences.

Like all of us in our various ways, I have a personal interest in EDI. For instance, I have a daughter and I would like her to be able to decide whether to become a firefighter, or an engineer, and not necessarily a nurse! When talking about EDI, we all seem to agree on the goal, yet once we start looking at figures, we can see that we are very far from being a fully inclusive and equal society.

I’m often asked the same question when teaching or talking about EDI: “What does a white, heterosexual man from an elite institution have to say about EDI?” I have several answers to this. First, our priorities and policies are research-based and I am involved to give academic-based insights: being part of the majority group does not necessarily make me less equipped to deliver such insights. Second, literature shows that audiences perceive people like me who are involved in EDI as less self-interested, therefore they tend to listen more. Third, too much of the EDI burden is put on minorities and that’s what I call a “double penalty”: not only are these people discriminated against, but they are also asked to fix the system, and that’s very unfair. Therefore, people who ask “why you?” must understand that EDI is a matter for everybody. We should all be engaged, and my role focuses on bringing everybody on board. EDI is about making our workplace a better place because, ultimately, we all benefit from it.

Cambridge Judge Business School is celebrating Black History Month 2022

The School will host a panel discussion on 18 October 2022 exploring organisational cultures that create inclusion and belonging. Panellists include Dr Bola Grace, Founder/CEO of Orishi, providing Inclusive Innovation solutions, Dr Othman Cole and Womba Lagrue. Othman is a senior member of Faculty at CJBS and Womba is the newly appointed Chair for the University of Cambridge, Race Equality Network. The Chair of the School’s Advisory Board, Julian Metherell, will participate in the discussion as an advocate for racial equality.

If you’d like to hear more about this event and how to book a place, please email Manaz Javaid at

This article was published on

22 July 2022.