Diversity and inclusion in business: moving from ‘nice to have’ to growth generator

Employers have finally made the connection between D&I and sustainable growth. Seb O’Connell explores the business case

Not long ago, diversity and inclusion (D&I)were viewed by businesses as a ‘nice to have’ or icing on the cake. Companies knew it was good to have a team dedicated to those issues, but they didn’t think it was completely necessary to the bottom line.  Thankfully, that’s all changed in the past few years.                                                                  

Employers and investors across the globe have now made the connection between D&I and sustainable growth. Organisations have made conscious efforts to diversify their workforce and make their workplace more inclusive.

In fact, some of the most successful global organisations repeatedly rank high in D&I. The top 20 of the Thomson Reuters Global Diversity and Inclusion Index 2018 includes Novartis AG, Gap Inc, Microsoft and Proctor & Gamble. These are multibillion-dollar businesses that are leaders in their sectors. So where might the connection lie?

Diversity of thought, experience

It is regularly reported that diverse workforces result in better decision making but, to truly reap the benefits of an inclusive workplace, it’s important to understand that diversity should be more than just a measure of age, race, gender and ability. These visible characteristics are important, surely, but there should also be a drive to include the diverse experiences in a person’s background, such as education and opportunity as well as time spent in sectors and cultures different from their current position. This will bring about diversity of thought as well as appearance.

Hiring, recognising and promoting people for who they are – celebrating their unique differences and exemplary work – provides a competitive advantage for organisations of all shapes and sizes. Diversity within a business enables a leader to better understand their customers and reflect this in their proposition to those customers. Leading a diverse business means gaining innovation, creativity and pace. Inclusion has to be tangible and go beyond simply meeting quotas, reporting in the Annual Accounts, and a measure for the CEO community.

Each person’s experiences have a huge impact on performance. The more freely an employee feels they can be themselves, the better they will contribute, collaborate and perform. So where to start?

How to develop diversity and inclusion

To improve or further develop diversity and inclusion, an organisation must ensure that the recruitment process is fair and engaging. Internally, that starts by reviewing the organisation’s current demographics, pinpointing key areas that should be enhanced or changed, and understanding why there is a need for a more diversity in those roles. Whilst a vision or goal statement will often be announced and sponsored by the C-Suite, it is often the C-Suite minus one or minus two that will need to breathe life into it.

It is imperative that any type of diversity and inclusion framework is employee-led as this is the core route to creating a cultural shift in the workplace. If employees are not on board with inclusion strategies, then change will not take place. Senior leaders must establish two-way communication with the workforce and articulate confidently how and why these strategies are being introduced. The creation of an inclusion taskforce can help with the refinement and subsequent communication of the organisation’s vision, also acting as fantastic advocates for the business – encouraging champions to promote the agenda, cascade information, rally support and lead forums.

It can be easy to focus on the internal workforce and forget that one of the key groups to communicate an inclusion strategy to is new recruits. When researching a place to work, job seekers look at job descriptions, explore corporate websites and social media channels, and read Glassdoor reviews. So, to attract the best talent, organisations need to review their entire recruitment process and identify any problem areas.

Creating or modifying the employer value proposition (EVP) is essential to ensuring a business has a compelling message that attracts and engages talent from all segments of society. An EVP should reflect an organisation’s commitment to equality, work-life balance and empowerment. The EVP can then be deployed across all candidate touch points, reinforcing the company’s dedication to creating and sustaining an inclusive workforce. This will boost the employer’s image as a company of choice, which will in turn continue to attract a diverse cross-section of top talent to the organisation.

Finding the right candidates

The biggest difference in attracting a diverse workforce is being able to identify where to find passive and sometimes less obvious talent communities and engaging proactively and directly with them. Attraction strategies need to be researched, robust and well-planned.

The selection process is also an area where many employers struggle to understand how to remove unconscious bias within the interviewer/hiring manager. They can reduce this by removing personal information at submission, implementing guaranteed interviews for minority candidates, and making sure there is diversity among interviewers. Defining relevant, or alternative qualifications, and educating hiring managers based on their value and suitability are also essential to ensuring inclusion and equal employment opportunities.

As with all long-term strategies, senior leaders need to continually check in with employees to measure their thoughts and feelings about the organisation. Employee engagement surveys could assess how the organisation is faring in the different facets of diversity. A pulse survey could see how free employees feel to be their authentic self at work, how supported they feel, and what inclusion issues are most important to them. Using such data can highlight key areas that need support or revisiting, and employee champions should be empowered to use the data to help drive successful outcomes. Community collaboration, for example, such as working with charities and external community groups is often highly regarded by employees when aligned with what they value most.

Companies that recruit from a diverse range of backgrounds have the potential to introduce valuable insights and perspectives into every part of their organisation. However, achieving cohesion and collaboration between team members takes thought, and it’s vital for employers to develop strategies to encourage collaboration and understanding. Through a combination of agile thinking, flexible processes and a determination to find, attract, hire and retain diverse talent, organisations will reap the productivity and success that forward-thinking and inclusive companies are proven to achieve.

Seb O’Connell is President of EMEA and Asia Pacific and member of the Cielo Global Executive Team. Cielo is a  strategic recruitment process outsourcing partner.

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