Star Interview

Getting D&I onto the agenda


Diversity and Inclusion can often be the backbone of HR's agenda, yet it takes a whole company to effectively implement it...

Words by Kieran Howells | Design by Matt Bonnar

Just because D&I is essential to HR, it doesn’t mean the C-suite feels the same way. In fact, an Accenture report released earlier this year titled: Getting to Equal 2020: The Hidden Value of Culture Makers discovered that almost three quarters of leaders believe they’re creating empowering environments where people have a sense of belonging, yet just a quarter of employees (or 29%) actually agree. In fact, the proportion of employees that don’t feel included in corporate culture is 15-times higher than leaders currently believe.

The same report states that Diversity is also a low priority: less than one in five leaders said diversity was a top agenda item, compared to eight in 10 who put financial performance at the top. This is despite the fact that 80% of women and 66% of men in the UK workforce care about workplace culture and believes that it is critical to helping them thrive in the workplace - and that 62% believe an inclusive workplace culture to be vital to the success of their business.

Studies show that diversity does actually improve corporate culture and increases retention, and nearly all studies conducted on the correlation between business success and diversity also highlight a strong link between a diverse workforce and higher profitability. Higher representation of women in C-suite level positions results in 34% greater returns to shareholders, says Fast Company data.

The same research also found that organisations with above average gender diversity and levels of employee engagement outperform companies with below-average diversity and engagement by 46% to 58% whilst a 2015 McKinsey report evidences that companies in the top quarter for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to surpass peers, while those in the same bracket for gender diversity are 15% more likely to do the same.

It’s clear that a business case must be made to leaders for the importance of D&I in the workforce. But how can this be achieved?

Legal argument

D&I may not be a strong feature of the leadership radar but it really should for many reasons. Firstly, as Tania Bowers, Legal Counsel at The Association of Professional Staffing Companies tells HR Grapevine, it’s a legal requirement. “From a legal perspective, discrimination on the grounds of any protected characteristic is unlawful and those characteristics include: sex; race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin); religion or belief; age; disability; marital status and civil partnership; sexual orientation; gender reassignment; pregnancy and maternity,” she says.

A big part of an HR team’s objectives should be empowering the rest of their business to adopt D&I into their day-to-day approach to work

 
 
 

D&I is more than just a HR issue

A common misconception amongst leaders may well be that, whilst the benefits of D&I appear to be undisputable, diversity sits solidly within the HR camp, and is therefore solely a HR issue to deal with. Barry Hoffman, HR Director, Landsec, believes that this couldn’t be further from the truth. “A big part of an HR team’s objectives should be empowering the rest of their business to adopt D&I into their day-to-day approach to work,” he says, before outlining how his own company worked together to adopt a more diversity-driven approach.

“At Landsec, for example, all hiring managers have recently completed unconscious bias training, we’re encouraging colleagues to mentor school pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds so that young people can see the span of careers that the property sector has to offer, and we’re running a number of programmes in schools to help ensure the pipeline of future talent is as diverse as possible. Many of these activities are led by our social sustainability team, rather than by HR colleagues. It’s crucial that responsibility for diversity and inclusion doesn’t only sit with HR,” says Hoffman.

Too often the process for organisations deciding upon and implementing adjustments for people with disabilities, for example, focuses on the individual rather than the organisation

 
 

Avoiding common D&I pitfalls

It’s worth noting that even with the C-suite on board – via a business case, shared responsibility and legal argument as laid out above - there are very real barriers to delivering truly inclusive D&I strategies within a company.

According to Occupational Psychologist Dr Nancy Doyle this means potentially changing mindset from the individual to the company as a whole. She tells HR Grapevine that D&I programs can only succeed if they acknowledge systemic inclusion. “Too often the process for organisations deciding upon and implementing adjustments for people with disabilities, for example, focuses on the individual rather than the organisation. This requires the individual to either be selected after underperforming or having difficulties, rather than the organisation itself embracing systemic inclusion.”

“Systemic inclusion looks at the organisation’s ability to ensure a diverse group of people can join from the start - not wait until they recruit a colleague, or recognise a gap in gender or ethnic diversity and then make an adjustment. Systemic inclusion might include flexible hours and environments, improved HR practices through recruitment, induction and appraisal and communication with all staff so that everyone knows the adjustments that are available,” she concludes.


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