Strategic leadership approach to managing diversity

Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
28 Jun 2011

28 Jun 2011 • by Changeboard Team

Diversity and inequality

The diverse talent pool in the UK workforce is something that should enable the economy to thrive. However, many companies are failing to harness the variety of skills available, or are paralysed from doing so by the difficult politics associated with the term ‘diversity’. They can only do so with a positive and strategic approach to managing diversity.

Mention the word ‘diversity’ and most people will instantly think of race and religion. The true picture is of course much wider. A truly diverse workforce will encompass different cultures, include youth and experience, men and women, and embrace people of different social backgrounds and personality types. However, while ideally this mix should exist at every rank and level, statistics show that this situation is far from the reality in many organisations. For example, representation of women at senior level is still appallingly low. The proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards stands at just 12.5% and it will take another 57 years to achieve equal pay for men and women at the current rates of increase.

Role models

Research conducted by CMI also found that, although there are high levels of ambition among under-represented groups, these aspirations are not being effectively supported in the workplace. The research highlighted that barriers to progression appeared to be even more entrenched at the top end of the scale, with the majority believing that cultural fit (64%) was an important part of securing high-level positions.

This may be due to the lack of role models at the top. There is no doubt that organisations need both more women and more representatives from ethnic minority groups at the helm of organisations. Good diversity practices need to be led from the top and organisations cannot claim to be committed to diversity if this is not reflected in their senior management team.

Widen talent base

Ultimately, managers needs to emerge from their silos and start to widen their understanding of what diversity really means and just how much untapped potential they have at their disposal. Life itself is diverse and dynamic. A key task for leaders and managers is to find new and creative ways of overcoming the barriers to diversity so that their workforces can begin to reflect the reality of the rich, varied and multi-cultural world we now live in.

There are a number of organisations already doing this to great effect. For example, in its quest to reflect the communities it serves, Dyfed-Powys Police has established working groups for each of the diversity strands identified in its Single Equality Scheme. These groups are each led by senior managers who act as champions, promoting the needs of different diversity strands. 

A strategic and positive approach to managing diversity will help organisations widen their talent base and get the best from the mix of experience and perspectives they have at their disposal. Only then will UK plc ensure that they remain competitive in the challenging post-recession economy.

Ruth Spellman OBE is chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute. Her first book ‘Managers and Leaders Who Can: How You Survive and Succeed in the New Economy’ is out now published by Wiley. Follow Ruth on Twitter at @cmi_ceo.

Ruth Spellman OBE is chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute. Her first book ‘Managers and Leaders Who Can: How You Survive and Succeed in the New Economy’ is out now published by Wiley. Follow Ruth on Twitter at @cmi_ceo.