Star Interview

Diversifying your future leaders


Diversity at the top has been a discussion many business leaders have delved into, so why isn’t enough being done to improve the issue...

Words by Jade Burke | Design by Matt Bonnar

Words by Jade Burke


Design by Matt Bonnar

Diversity at leadership level has long been a conversation between employers and their HR departments, as the two grapple to improve the variety of talent that leads the business. Yet research still indicates that proper diversity at the top is still very limited.

Just last month, it was reported that The BBC had failed to meet its 2020 target for BAME representation amongst its leadership. In 2018, the broadcaster committed to a 15% representation target; failure to meet this lead Director-General Tim Davie to say the organisation “must do better”. And its not just the BBC who are failing. Stats published by The McGregor-Smith Review discovered that just 9.7% of executive positions in FTSE 100 companies are held by women, while a report shared by Grant Thornton found that the average number of ethnic groups represented by senior management teams worldwide is 1.5.

This lack of diversity is concerning for HR as it has widespread organisational implications - particularly as employees and jobseekers have increasingly expressed a desire for better diversity in the workplace. This is echoed in research from Glassdoor which states that 67% of jobseekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities, and more than 50% of current employees want their workplace to do more to increase diversity.

This should be well thought out and not a knee jerk reaction that sets a target for increasing diversity but doesn’t set a target for how to increase inclusion

Diversity as a boon

By now, most HR practitioners will understand the benefits that diversity brings. For example, a Fast Company study indicated that a higher representation of women in C-suite level positions results in 34% greater returns to shareholders, while Harvard Business Review previously shared that organisations with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues. The stats speak for themselves when it comes to the benefits of a diverse workforce, but why isn’t enough change being done when it comes to senior leadership?

 

Drilling down into talent

Settling for the quickest and easiest individuals to fill a role could arguably be something that some organisations opt for. However when it comes to the leadership team in particular, HR has a duty to really drill down into a talent pipeline, to try and discover the best talent out there. This is something that Dionne Maxwell, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Lead at magazine publisher Hearst believes in. She suggests that businesses who have not typically looked into underrepresented groups should make this a priority.

“I think more needs to be done to expose the talent pipeline to leadership level, particularly for industries who have not historically built relationships with underrepresented groups,” Maxwell explains. “This should be well thought out and not a knee jerk reaction that sets a target for increasing diversity but doesn’t set a target for how to increase inclusion. The goal needs to more than just getting people in the building it needs to also include nourishing talent and encouraging cultural add not cultural fit.”

How diverse is today’s workforce?

  • Higher representation of women in C-suite level positions can lead to 34% greater returns to shareholders (Fast Company)
  • Companies with “two-dimensional” diversity are 45% more likely to report that they had captured a larger portion of the market (Harvard Business Review)
  • 63% of business leaders – compared to 42% of employees – believe that their organisation regularly makes information available on the diversity of employees and leadership teams (PwC)
  • Over two-thirds (69%) of executives rate diversity and inclusion an important issue (up from 59% in 2014) (Deloitte)
  • 68% of C-level executives are white men; four per cent are women of colour (McKinsey & Company)

Focus on recruitment

For real change to happen, Penny Davis, a senior HR professional formerly at T-Mobile and Balfour Beatty, believes that HR leaders should focus on the way in which they recruit individuals. This could include new processes such as blind recruitment, where a candidate doesn’t have to reveal their name, gender, age or race. Processes such as these have been beneficial when it comes to improving diversity, as a 2017 study by recruitment platform SomeoneWho found that 48% of HR managers admitted that bias affects their candidate choice, suggesting that removing all personal information could make a huge difference in the recruitment process.

Davis supports this as she says: “Often recruitment processes can weed out diverse candidates. This might be because of non-traditional career patterns, use of language or non-UK qualifications and experience. Check, double check and measure the effectiveness of recruitment processes.”

 

But still more can be done according to Davis, as she shares that diversity must be embedded into the employee lifecycle and brand. She suggests that do to this, leadership teams must respect different points of view by listening to others and understanding what is being said, while also constantly checking their own biases. “Diversity has to be part of the business strategy meaning there has to be a positive commitment throughout the organisation to change,” she continues. “Most of us are aware that we are more comfortable with people who are like us, this needs to change, leaders need to become comfortable with discomfort and recruit people who are different.”

 

Improving workforce inclusion and diversity within an organisation needs to be more than just a trend

Not just a ‘trend’

When something grows traction and proves to be popular among employees, quite often an employer will act on it and look for ways to introduce it. For example, fads have been known to find their way into many businesses’ policies, such as nap rooms, hammocks, beer fridges and dog-friendly offices, all of which have been designed to promote better workplace culture and employee wellbeing. However, when it comes to diversity, particularly at the top level, Priscilla Baffour, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at the international daily newspaper Financial Times (FT), warns that employers shouldn’t just embrace this as a ‘trend’.

 

She explains: “We know from many reports that embracing diversity is not only the right thing to do but it is good business. Improving workforce inclusion and diversity within an organisation needs to be more than just a trend – it should be embedded into an organisations people and business strategy. Diversity and Inclusion isn’t just HR’s responsibility and like every other aspect of business strategy it relies on every business area to lead on measurable action plans to drive change.”

By following these strategies, HR leaders will be able to boost their leadership teams with more diverse individuals as Hearst’s Maxwell enthuses: “The benefits of having diversity in leadership positions have been widely promoted but organisations need to open the talent pipeline to ensure the route to leadership is accessible.”


More from this issue
HR Strategy
Did the pandemic change HR's value?

Did the pandemic change HR's value?

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Talent
3 steps to boost agility in your talent acquisition strategy
Allegis Global Solutions

3 steps to boost agility in your talent acquisition strategy

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Star interview
How HR became a lockdown leader

How HR became a lockdown leader

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd