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Equality, diversity and inclusion is increasingly not only a moral or cultural imperative – it’s a business imperative. Research by McKinsey & Company in 2015 showed a direct correlation between staff diversity and financial performance, with those embracing a range of demographics across all levels of the business being up to 35 per cent more likely to generate higher profitability.

Whilst this has now been known for years, creating tangible, lasting change takes sustained effort and commitment. Cultural transformation does not happen overnight. Here we outline the key factors driving business change that are creating real impact in this area.

1. Benchmark and track progress

Employee benefits focused on improving the office space are being rendered meaningless for those able to work remotely. As a key part of the reward package in terms of the culture and environment offered by companies, 77 per cent have increased their investment in initiatives designed to support equality, diversity and inclusion. This has been part of implementing new policies or incentives to maintain employee engagement and attract top talent. Many organisations are asking whether they are as diverse as they need to be as an organisation. Whilst ethnicity pay gaps are set to be introduced, businesses are being proactive by assessing their records already.

Cancer Research are amongst the employers who have published their gender pay gap figures for 2020 and ethnicity pay gap figures for the first time. This demonstrates how businesses are increasingly holding themselves to account. Sharing this data generates a benchmark that each company must improve on year on year, with McDonalds publicly committing to defined targets for 2030. By being aware of the weaknesses and strengths of the demographic make-up of an organisation, plans can be made around this, with a particular focus on achieving greater diversity in senior management roles. Facebook and Twitter are amongst those pledging support for Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s 25x25 diversity initiative – ensuring 25 per cent of their leadership team is from underrepresented groups by 2025.

2. Champion innovation and change

Organisations are increasingly setting up diversity and inclusion forums to ensure that the culture promotes recruitment and retention of employees with varied backgrounds. This can range from dedicated diversity committees to awareness-raising events. Recently Expedia dedicated two days to a hackathon focused on diversity and inclusion. A hackathon is an intense and focused session bringing different teams together on a particular area to drive innovation and Expedia hope to translate these ideas into real life products to remove barriers to travel. This harnessed the varied voices and experiences across the organisation to collaborate and champion the end-user experience, demonstrating the power of embedding equality, diversity and inclusion across businesses.

Transparent communication is a key part of this. The whole employee journey should be analysed to check it is as smooth as possible for every employee, suiting their needs across interviews, onboarding and performance management. All employees, regardless of their gender or race, should be able to understand the path to leadership and what they can do to progress in defined career paths. Employers should also ensure that they write inclusive job descriptions for candidates, making it clear the company is open to hiring remote workers; creating policies around leveraging remote talent will ensure that companies can retain diverse workforces in the long-term.

3. Harness remote working

Creating equal opportunities for all, regardless of background, has firmly been brought to the fore by the pandemic. Remote operations have enabled companies to access a wider talent pool beyond their immediate geographical footprint, removing any practical barriers to recruiting within a commutable distance.

Creating equal opportunities for all, regardless of background, has firmly been brought to the fore by the pandemic.

 

This leads to the question of whether it may create more opportunities for women in particular, in the long-run. Whilst this is not currently true given reports that the pressure of balancing home schooling and work is having a greater impact on female progression, the lockdown may mean that more employers offer purely remote working. This might lead to greater opportunities for working mothers to have more flexibility in balancing their careers around family life. In fact, remote working could help to remove additional biases around location if employees can be based anywhere and even disability if employees can work in an environment that is customised to their needs. Furthermore, this could help to reduce visual bias, reducing assumptions made around appearances such as skin colour, hairstyles, fashion or tattoos.

4. Get equality, diversity and inclusion on the C-Suite agenda

Leadership plays a pivotal role in the success of truly embedding equality, diversity and inclusion throughout an organisation. The Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020 saw a surge of support in terms of people talking about unconscious bias and committing to challenge their own perceptions. However, the momentum needs to be maintained. A strategic programme that is underpinned by the reporting requirements around pay gaps of underrepresented groups is important to keep diversity and inclusion in top level plans for organisations.

Equality, diversity and inclusion needs to be seen as a C-Suite issue that the whole organisation commits to support. Leadership should continually signal this as a priority over time. Embedding this as a key value of the organisation or pillar in its business strategy ensures that equality, diversity and inclusion is beyond a topical moment that the employer is paying lip service towards – this makes the issue a priority beyond the impetus created from outpourings of outrage over the treatment of people that ebb and flow. Real change is rooted in creating firm, long-term plans to achieve genuine racial and gender equality.

5. Step up equality, diversity and inclusion training

Employers are taking steps to increase their equality, diversity and inclusion training and review their diversity policy. This includes increasing hiring in equality, diversity and inclusion-focused roles, such as creating Heads of Diversity and Inclusion to monitor progress in this area. Unconscious bias training and redacting identifiers of race or gender in CVs are also improving the recruitment process and ensuring the shortlisting and interview process is objective and fair. Others are focusing on setting up more networking, working groups and mentoring opportunities across the business to ensure people can connect and inspire one another, sharing similar experiences and backgrounds to overcome any obstacles to progressing within the company. These connections build bridges, driving employee engagement by building strong teams and by ensuring every employee feels listened to and supported.

Learning from one another can also instigate change. A more diverse workplace may challenge existing practices that are prevalent and that undermine a thriving workplace. 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 behaviour to progress; and other employees report having to westernise their names to progress in the workplace. These behaviours and attitudes are perpetuated when they remain part of the norm and go unchallenged. Embracing diversity is an opportunity to scrutinise the shared values throughout an organisation. International Women’s Day 2021 on 8 March will focus on employees who #choosetochallenge and commit to meaningful change.

Get in touch

Companies can often be seen as a microcosm of society – many realise their crucial role in championing diversity so that it also fosters a more diverse, inclusive and equitable society. Requiring employer transparency over gender pay was the first step in the wider focus on equality, diversity and inclusion in business. Call us today to discuss how we can create real and lasting change throughout your organisation.


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