Keeping diversity and inclusion at the top of the agenda

Written by
Jean Martin

07 Dec 2015

07 Dec 2015 • by Jean Martin

So far so good?

This summer the UK Government launched a consultation on helping disabled people back in to the workplace. Across the Atlantic, Google software engineer Erica Baker made international headlines for creating a spreadsheet which allowed other Google employees to share information about their salaries in order to expose gender-related pay inequalities.

These two recent examples remind us that the battle for true equality, and by extension true diversity, in the workplace is far from won. In fact, for many segments of the workforce, equality is still a long way off and this has to change. Some still dismiss diversity and inclusion initiatives as "HR issues" but what many companies fail to realise is that an inclusive and diverse workforce makes good business sense. 

Organisations implement diversity and inclusion initiatives to create an environment in which individuals from different backgrounds are treated fairly and given equal access to opportunities and resources. Embracing diversity and inclusion can bring a broader range of mindsets and backgrounds into the company, leading to more effective decision-making or drawing in a wider customer base.

Putting inclusion into practice in your business

However, many employers underestimate the importance of diversity and inclusion, and even fewer have succeeded in creating such an environment. They equate it with simply hiring more people from more diverse backgrounds, and fail to truly appreciate the impact that diversity can have on broader talent and business outcomes.

Our studies of employee performance reveal that “working in a diverse team” is among the top five most important drivers of employee engagement and discretionary effort in the workplace.  

Employees today not only value working with different sorts of people, they actually perform better in those sort of environments. Our research shows that companies with diverse leaders generate twice the revenue and profit growth as those without. In this type of environment employees work 12 percent harder, are 19 percent more likely to stay longer with the organisation, and collaborate up to 57 percent more effectively with peers.

Although, 77 percent of executives strongly support diversity initiatives, and organisations expect to focus and invest even more in these areas over the coming years, workers across the globe continue to believe their employers are ineffective. 

In short, there is a clear business case for equal opportunities and maximising workforce diversity but that does not mean turning this ideal into reality is going to be easy. What can companies do to embrace diversity and inclusion? And what barriers are preventing diversity in the workplace?

The most progressive organisations build diversity and inclusion by following three imperatives:

1. Build diversity strategies that link diversity with outcomes that matter
Generate commitment and a common outlook towards diversity by clearly articulating to internal stakeholders how diversity and inclusion relate to other strategic initiatives. Clarify the synergies by establishing ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ accountability measures for senior leaders, managers, and employees, and assess incremental progress against those objectives, not just final results. This will secure buy-in and create accountability for executing against diversity goals.

2. Don’t fall into the trap of developing a one-size-fits-all diversity strategy
Don't assume that diverse talent can be managed with the same strategies as the rest of your workforce. Instead, segment your attraction and development approaches to ensure closer alignment with diverse employee preferences and needs. Also look at hiring or leveraging employees who demonstrate inclusive behaviours.

3. Create a diverse leadership pipeline
Diversity at the top of the organisation is every bit as important, if not more so, as it is for the wider workforce. Encourage career influencers at the top of the organisation to share their career experiences and journey to help diverse employees see the link between their skills and leadership position requirements. And build processes that minimise the impact of biases in talent management decisions.

In a world of rapidly changing talent demographics, improved social mobility and emerging skills sectors, it‘s absolutely critical organisations are selecting applicants from the broadest talent pool available – ensuring talent management practices are inclusive, fair and objective. 

Smart companies are not waiting for regulatory pressures to come into force, they are removing the barriers within their companies to minimise actual or perceived differences. Changing in these ways sends a powerful message to the market and allow your business to reap the benefits of a diverse, talented workforce.