The diversity and inclusion debate is nothing new. It has been a key priority at the top of the organisational agenda for almost a decade; and at the front of the nation’s consciousness, thanks in part to the frequency with which the media has been keeping the conversation going.
However, despite mounting evidence that diversity and inclusion is good for business* beyond the “ first movers”, why is it not happening more quickly?
We wanted to explore this further with a thought leader, so we invited Jan Gooding, Chair of Stonewall to lead the debate with a select group of senior leaders at an exclusive event held at Fora Spitalfields, London. We started by asking Jan to offer a definition of what exactly is meant by ‘diversity and inclusion’ in the first place.
“Diversity,” Jan stated, “is all of the richness we carry as individuals, and inclusion is the hope that will come out of it.” The latter, she added, is the real standard by which we should be aiming for and “you can’t have diversity without inclusion.”
Indeed, the idea of promoting inclusion over individual diversity initiatives has been gaining traction recently. Yet no organisation seems to have gone far enough yet. This begs the question: If we can all agree that inclusion is so important, what’s getting in the way of us achieving it?
Gender should not lead the agenda
While acknowledging that much progress has been made both in terms of awareness and organisational action in addressing the balance between different groups within workforces, Jan suggested the debate currently taking place has one major flaw – it is, ironically, biased.
Accordingly, her observations and experiences indicate a leaning towards the issue of gender with less attention afforded to other groups, such as LGBT+ and BAME employees. She suggested that chasing a single aspect of our identity – like gender – risks seeing the challenges being faced by others being overlooked: “We need to focus on creating an inclusive culture for everyone that represents the community in which we live and work. Diversity will be the outcome of that.”
Of course, the gender agenda has taken top billing ever since the publication of the Lord Davies Review of Women on Boards in 2011, which served as a catalyst for change. But while significant advances have been made in terms of addressing the gender balance at the top table, it too has its challenges; improvements have largely been restricted to the FTSE100 and FTSE 250.
Indeed, the number of women occupying senior roles with FTSE100 organisations today stands at 30 per cent, with the Hampton-Alexander Review target of 33 per cent target by the end of 2020 within reach. Outside the UK’s top 100 employers; however, the numbers begin to look less impressive.
For the FTSE250, research from The Pipeline shows that around one in four (27.5 per cent) of companies have female representation at board level, with this number dropping to just 15 per cent for FTSE350 organisations – with no progress over the last three years. So, what is accounting for this sharp decline outside the FTSE100?
One suggestion from Jan is that there is perhaps a degree of fatigue. Business leaders, she said, have to contend with varying and often-conflicting issues such as the potential impact of Brexit, regulatory pressures, technology and climate change etc. The challenge therefore is keeping the issue of diversity and inclusion front of mind.
Among our group of attendees, there was a consensus that gender parity can no longer be an objective for only the most “ high profile” employers. It must be replicated across every sector and within all organisations, both within and outside the FTSE before we can truly say that the balance has been redressed. As one of our audience members commented:-
“I always felt there was extraordinary pressure on women to outperform, I think women are required to be much better than average, whereas it’s been okay for men to be average for a very long time. We’ll know when the gender problem is solved – when we have as many mediocre women in positions as we do mediocre men” – Nina Bhatia, Managing Partner, Pacemakers.io
Sexual orientation as well as ethnicity is fundamental to the debate. The overall sense is that the LGBT+ community is the most understood ‘category’ (for want of a better word) of diversity. Organisations know they need to treat people equally, but do they understand ‘how’ they can achieve representation?
The honest answer is probably not. Yes, they may think they are completely inclusive, and their employees if asked, might even agree with them. But what if someone is not comfortable with speaking up for fear of standing out.
According to Stonewall, the organisation, which Jan Chairs, more than one in three LGBT workers (35 per cent) have hidden their sexuality at work for fear of discrimination. One in five bisexual workers have done likewise. These figures could of course be even higher.
This takes us into the realms of corporate culture and the responsibility of business leaders to foster an environment of openness, respect and acceptance, which could be the focus for a stand alone article in its own right. That said, a piece published in the Harvard Business Review effectively illustrates this point:
“If you want your employees to be more vocal and contribute ideas and opinions, you should actively encourage this behaviour and reward those who do it.”
The notion of feeling unable to speak out is not only common among more established workers, it is echoed among early careerists too. Jan pointed to a study conducted by OUTstanding, which found that 62 per cent of Gen Y LGBT graduates “go back into the closet when the start their first job.” She added “it can’t be right that young people perceive a significant risk in being out at work.”
Coming out at work is one thing, but when the difference is one of colour the bias against workers appears to be even more accentuated.
Indeed, figures published by the Financial Conduct Authority show that just one in 10 management roles within the financial services sector are held by Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) employees. In fact, BAME representation at senior level has decreased from 3% in 2016 to 2% in 2017. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the Bank of England.
Despite Mark Carney’s target of achieving 13 per cent BAME representation in senior roles by 2020, it currently stands at just 5 per cent and staff turnover among its BAME employees is the highest of any group.
Inclusion makes diversity work
The last post-recession era has given rise to a greater degree of competitiveness between organisations at both a local and global level never seen before. Those who are going to steal a march on their rivals will be the organisations who recognise that domestic and global societies have changed. By evolving with it through ensuring their teams are reflective of it, they will gain that all-important edge. According to a 2018 report by McKinsey & Company, “diversity and inclusion are good for business.”
All of us are programmed with our own unconscious biases and without challenges to our current way of thinking, we could be forgiven for accepting the status quo. This will only come about when the captains of industry take a proactive stance and continually challenge themselves and their people to keep asking how they can do better.
C-suite employees and senior management are key role models for an inclusive environment. It is they who need to lead the charge, remove all barriers to recruiting diverse talent and create a working environment whereby anyone and everyone can and does feel engaged, heard and respected because of their differences and the value that this brings to the organisation as a whole.
All diversity initiatives are useless if there is no inclusion. As Jan firmly stated, diversity is getting a seat at the top table but inclusion is having the ear and actions of those around you.
Mckinsey has found that organisations in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to generate higher revenues than the average for their industry. For gender diversity, this figure is 15 per cent. In the UK, McKinsey states the businesses will see an average 3.5 per cent growth for every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity (https://www.mkinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters)
Continue the conversation
Diversity and inclusion is not just about numbers. It should be about bringing in professionals with a variety of cultures, background and experiences to challenge and change the status quo and help your company explore new products and markets. Hiring the right talent becomes increasingly important in today’s globalised business environment, where companies must navigate differences between languages, cultures and customs.
For a confidential conversation about your executive hiring challenges, feel free to connect with me directly here.