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Diversity & Inclusion: 11 ways to drive change

9 May 2018

Inclusive workplaces can boost productivity and drive growth. Business leaders at the latest CBI conference shared their experiences

How do you make sure the campaign for greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace is no longer about preaching to the converted, but converting the quiet sceptics – and actually delivering change?

It was a question CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn put to a packed room at the CBI’s Inclusion Conference. And the answers came throughout the morning, with practical examples of how individual businesses were changing their approach to recruitment, progression and workplace culture – and feeling the benefits.

Here is just some of the advice that was on offer:

1. Unless there is leadership, things will not change

And on this, actions speak louder than words.

“Everyone is a role model,” said Jacqueline de Rojas, President of TechUK, arguing that people needed to take action as individuals, rather than hide behind strategy. 

“If you don’t change the profile at the top, it won’t move elsewhere in the organisation,” added Ivan Menezes, Chief Executive at Diageo. There, change started with global employee research that came back with a consistent perception that you had to be white and male to succeed in the business.

2. Measurement and targets are important

You need to start by being honest about where you are on diversity and inclusion, agreed Andy Briggs, CEO of UK Insurance at Aviva.

Targets then help to focus efforts. Virgin Money has promised it will have a gender balanced workforce by 2020, for example, and Accenture has committed to do the same, globally, by 2025.

John Lewis, meanwhile, has declared its ambition to be Britain’s healthiest workplace. Importantly, this includes mental health. “We’ve no idea how,” said the company’s Partnership Registrar Rory Campbell. “But it’s the ambition that matters.”

3. Competition will help to drive change

When targets – or intentions – are made public, it’s another criteria top talent will use to judge rival firms, and that matters with current skills shortages. The Women in Finance Charter, for example, is injecting a bit of healthy competition between financial services firms, said Emily Cox, Head of Public Affairs at Virgin Money.

A good reputation on diversity and inclusion can help secure contracts too, said Emma Tolhurst, Employer Brand Lead Europe at Accenture. This can work both ways – as larger firms can use their procurement processes to ensure it’s high on their suppliers’ agenda too, she added.

4. Employee networks can be enormously powerful

Existing employees can drive change from the bottom up too when they don’t tolerate the status quo, said Tulsi Naidu, CEO of Zurich UK. She pointed to the “frozen middle” as the cause of the slow pace of progress.

“Action from the top is not enough,” she said, adding that it is visibility, not logic, that will make the difference.

5. When you can’t find the skills you need, widen the pool you’re looking in

The ideas here were wide ranging – including law firm (and host for the conference) Simmons & Simmons challenging itself on recruiting from broader socio-economic backgrounds; Diageo’s Ivan Menezes urging more employers to join Movement to Work to help more young people fulfil their potential; and Aviva’s Andy Briggs championing older workers.

Emma Walton, Head of People at Greggs, said their Fresh Start programmes – helping veterans, prisoners or long-term unemployed into jobs – have contributed around 8 per cent of its current workforce. With an 83 per cent retention rate, and a large number of participants progressing into management positions, she emphasised their loyalty and hard work.

Walton added that such programmes did not have to be resource heavy either.

6. Don’t miss talent because of your recruitment processes

Panellists, including BCMS Marketing Director Dr Liz Jackson and Hyden Talent’s Managing Director Joanna Abeyie, highlighted examples of recruitment processes that inadvertently posed barriers to those with disabilities or from different backgrounds.

Small changes such as offering alternative ways of submitting applications, and assessing candidates based on skills and competencies, rather than background and experience, can make a big difference, they said.

Offering flexible working upfront in a job ad – or even offering to match any informal flexible working patterns candidates have with existing employers – will also serve to attract talent otherwise unable, or too nervous, to apply.

7. Think flexible working, rather than part-time

Attitudes to flexible working still lag behind where they should be – especially when it’s so important to younger generations, explained Natalie Gill, Programme Director at Timewise.

It also shouldn’t stand in the way of progression, argued Aviva’s Briggs, highlighting how Will McDonald and Sam White share the role of Group Director of Public Policy & Sustainability at the company – and act as role models for the rest of the organisation.

8. Put your money where your mouth is

Briggs also talked about the importance of offering equal parental pay to mums and dads – and in an argument echoed by Accenture’s Emma Tolhurst insisted that without it progress in getting men to take up the opportunity of shared parental leave would remain glacial.

9. Be proactive on diversity, don’t wait until you have a job vacancy

Fostering inclusive workplaces can’t be a tick box exercise that’s only relevant each time you recruit, said Hyden Talent’s Joanna Abeyie. She went on to explain that companies shouldn’t just rely on established development schemes.

“Coach and mentor the individuals you believe have potential so they are ready when the right promotion comes up,” she said.

10. Lose the stigma around mental health

Mental health best practice is now something discussed far more than it used to be. And Fiona Cannon, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Lloyds Banking Group, said it’s also an issue that affects everyone at one time or another.

Business has an influential role to play in raising awareness, as well as in creating a safe and open environment so people can talk about the issues they are experiencing, she said.

11. Stand back and ask yourself if your workplace is a happy place

Bruce Daisley, Twitter’s EMEA vice president, gave an engaging presentation to highlight that everyone needed to be able to bring their whole selves to work in order to be awake at work. Emphasising that stress is the enemy to creativity, he urged employers to create space for employees to come together and exchange ideas – as well as to take a break from the daily grind.

Book your place for the next Inclusive Workplaces Conference in Newcastle on 26 September

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