Women represent 51 per cent of the UK working age population. In 2010, they made up a small 12.5 per cent of the corporate boards of FTSE 100 companies, with an increase of only 3.1 per cent in six years. Five years on, and following recommendations from Lord Davies, the rate has more than doubled. Yet, is increasing numbers the answer to more diversity and inclusion in business?
Just increasing numbers won’t help
If an organisation increases the number of employees from different backgrounds, it may be tempting to believe that they will bring more diverse views, thus contributing to better problem solving and decision making. However, most won’t feel empowered to contribute without a culture of inclusion.
They will become demotivated and leave or become disruptive, in both cases affecting productivity but also potentially costing the organisation dearly in conflict resolution. Things will continue to be done in the same way, preventing innovation and necessary future developments. Customer service will suffer as employees won’t be able to address their clients’ own diverse needs.
There is no point in hiring more, if bias and prejudice mean that diverse opinions remain invisible.
Intentional culture not incidental initiatives
Diversity is about more than gender and protected characteristics. It is also about abilities, preferences, cultures, beliefs, status etc. Building an inclusive culture means intentionally fighting conscious and unconscious bias that arise from societal and organisational norms and the ensuing behaviours and actions. It is ongoing and demands to constantly evaluate initiatives and improve their impact. It cannot happen without an unwavering commitment from senior leadership to both concept and implementation.
Signs that you have an inclusive culture:
- your organisational values demonstrate a fair, respectful and dignified workplace
- all employees are aware of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour and expected standards, and their role in upholding them
- your HR policies and procedures encourage equality, minimise risks of discrimination and promote diversity
- management is fair
- open dialogue, active listening to all in the organisation and good and diverse communication channels are evident.
Learning and development underpins it all by raising awareness, upskilling managers and generally developing the right behaviours.
How to develop the right behaviours
There isn’t a right size fits all; but ACAS recommends:
- making diversity and inclusion part of induction programmes to let all new employees know about the organisation’s values and policies as well as communication channels and any available support networks
- line manager training to ensure that they have the skills to manage a diverse workforce
- building concepts of diversity and good practice into other staff training courses, management training and team-building programmes, to increase awareness of the need to handle different views and ideas positively.
Some organisations offer specific diversity and inclusion training, others target specific development programmes (eg BAME in leadership). Skanska successfully implemented mixed-pair mentoring in response to the shortage of women working and staying in the sector. The scheme matches established managers with younger employees of different sex, and operating units with established function. It not only supports people development but also breaks down silos and encourages broader thinking. Skanska has seen a small 2 per cent increase in women in senior roles in four years but has seen retention rates improve significantly.
Although solutions are different for every organisation, they share the same aim: raising awareness about various aspects of diversity to help people appreciate difference and work together better. This definitely can’t be achieved through numbers alone.