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Embracing diversity and inclusion as a core value of every business is crucial to tackling ongoing inequality that is especially acute in the boardroom. Companies are striving to represent a range of demographics across all levels of the business, which will form the foundation of a diverse leadership team.

Our UK Reward Management Survey Spring 2020 Report delved into the different approaches businesses are taking to hold themselves accountable in terms of how open they are to supporting every employee regardless of their background. We explore the current challenges facing employers when it comes to promoting an inclusive and diverse culture.

A lack of representation

Even before Gender Pay Gap reporting was suspended for 2020 to ease pressure on HR departments, a government-backed review revealed that women hold one third of positions in FTSE 100 company Boards. Since 2011, two government-backed reviews have focused on boosting women’s representation on the boards of UK-listed companies, but they remain voluntary target-based in contrast to France who have introduced quotas. Evidence suggesting that coronavirus will have a disproportionate effect on women further compounds this incremental progress, as the impact of the lockdown and job losses will further hamper women’s economic health and the opportunities available.

When examining the representation of ethnic minority groups, which is dominating headlines in light of the fourth weekend of Black Lives Matter protests, over half of FTSE 350 boards are all-white and there are only 15 directors of colour holding the position of company chair or CEO. Significant and meaningful change is needed that puts in place genuine commitment to gender and racial equality.

Overcoming obstacles to career progression

Many senior roles still have a glass ceiling in place. We advocate a ground-up approach to ensure that all employees, regardless of their gender or race, can understand the path to leadership and what they can do to progress in defined career paths. It is important that positive discrimination does not operate as a quick fix to introduce those traditionally under-represented into boardrooms ahead of those who are more qualified, so a holistic review is imperative when looking at the employee experience. Recruitment practices through to ongoing learning and development opportunities are key to assessing how open your organisation is to supporting all employees.

Barriers become a broader cultural issue that is often embedded in traditional ways of working. 100 per cent of respondents to the UK Reward Management Survey said they were offering working from home in response to the pandemic, which may help to tackle outdated perceptions around part-time working, which the coronavirus pandemic underlined for every parent working from home and juggling childcare. Inflexible roles can act as a real barrier to women progressing. Shared parental leave is also a measure that has been designed to change social norms and may ease the transition out of lockdown for new parents balancing childcare. Similarly, unconscious bias training in recruitment practices and scrutinising people metrics can also strengthen employers’ awareness about their track record and commitment to equality.

A healthier workplace

 The business case for diversity is overwhelming. A culture committed to equality can impact a business’ bottom line, with numerous benefits including being more representative of a wider range of experiences when setting company strategy and being more representative of broader talent pools that can offer fresh approaches, wider skill-sets and new perspectives. Equally, customers are increasingly looking at a business’ diversity and inclusion record and holding prospective and existing providers to account. Data and further information on diversity initiatives are increasingly requested in pitches and tenders as evidence of businesses adhering to high standards. This can form the foundation for long term, trusted client relationships.

A more diverse workplace may also challenge existing practices that are prevalent and that undermine employee health. Traditional working practices such as 60-70 hour weeks are still worn by many in senior leadership as a badge of honour; some report having to adapt their behavior to progress, whilst other employees report having to westernise their names to progress in the workplace. These behaviours and attitudes are perpetuated, whilst embracing diversity is an opportunity to scrutinise the shared values throughout an organisation.

An organisation’s employee value proposition

The EVP of a business can be bolstered by a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. A diverse workplace is increasingly a factor talented job seekers look for ahead of applying. This is indicative of an innovative environment and an agile workplace that includes culturally and internationally diverse voices. This also signals a workplace that is driven by values such as inclusiveness that has a long-term impact on employee experience and drives down employee turnover levels.

Monitoring progress

Effective true and lasting change is therefore a business imperative – and one which will not be taken lightly by shareholders and customers. Whilst the reputational risk of ignoring the issue will be underlined by key stakeholders, paying lip service to the issue whilst carrying on business as usual will also undermine the long-term success of businesses. In relation to the gender pay gap, many companies have commendably published or intend to publish data they already collected in preparation of this year’s reporting deadline to ensure they continue to build a consistent picture of their progress in closing the gap.

Similarly, there are calls to bring forward plans to introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting to be a part of this broad conversation on how to create a more representative workplace. 72 per cent will examine this data, whilst 63 per cent also intend to investigate employee data based on age and 63 per cent are scrutinising how they support disabled employees, demonstrating how organisations are increasingly analysing company-wide demographics.

Leaders of the future

One of the challenges customers report in terms of achieving diversity in leadership is the pipeline of talent available. Bringing people through with consistent promotions is a key consideration, as many people work their whole careers to get into the senior team. There is a concentration of power in a small group and perhaps this should be dissipated wider, throughout power structures as opposed to a small group that is not representative of the workforce and customer base. Non-hierarchical, flatter structures are increasingly operating in businesses where people have more multi-phased careers, which may mean that agility is recognised and more rigid frameworks are less obstructive to leaders of the future.

Initiatives in place

Employers are increasingly aware of their diversity record and promoting equal opportunities across the whole employee experience – from recruitment of candidates through to business leadership roles.

We welcomed reports that 76 per cent of respondents to our recent UK Reward Management Survey already had diversity and inclusion initiatives in place, the top three being:

  1. Networking groups – dedicated support groups to connect those who are traditionally under-represented in the workplace and who can share their experiences.
  2. Dedicated working groups – bringing all staff together to champion equality.
  3. Mentoring, coaching and sponsorship programmes – providing support and training designed to support the individual.

All initiatives were designed to promote a sense of belonging at work and effect long-term cultural change. Diversity and inclusion initiatives can often be a mixture of short and long-term measures designed to bring about a step change in the organisation’s traditional approach, challenging ingrained processes and ways of thinking. Often there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and initiatives will be tailored to the requirements of the employees, but a long-term strategy is vital. A commitment to diversity and inclusion can signal a business’ ability to remain agile and future-proof.

Maintain the momentum

A prescriptive and proactive approach will help to achieve lasting change in the workplace. The focus ebbs and flows in the media, but decisive and positive action for the long term will ensure that organisations continue to close pay gaps, embed diversity as a core value and drive diversity not only at leadership level but across organisations. Get in touch today to discuss how you can effect long-term cultural change and champion diversity in your organisation.

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