Powering up the boardroom: the benefits of a diverse workforce

What is happening in the career path between college leaver and senior manager that means fewer women are promoted into the top jobs? How can we ensure that vital talent is not lost or overlooked?

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This article is taken from the latest issue of Relocate magazine – the must read for HR, global managers and relocation professionals.
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While organisations have worked hard
 to recruit men and women in equal proportions, the number of women in senior positions is still comparatively small, as is representation of ethnic minorities. The Parker Review of diversity within Britain’s largest firms makes sobering reading. Only 53 of Britain’s largest listed firms on the London Stock Exchange have at least one director from an ethnic minority, according to figures compiled for the second annual update. That is a small increase from the 49 companies that had met the target since the review was launched in 2017.In addition, the Hampton-Alexander Review has set a target of 33% representation of women on FTSE 350 Boards and in Executive Committee and Direct Reports by the end of this year, but many companies are unlikely to meet this figure.While some firms are doing their best to increase representation of women and ethnic minorities at the management level, many are still complacent or slow to make changes. Yet there is a social shift happening that recognises how much talent is wasted by not using the skills and insights of all employees. It is movement that is gathering force. For example, diversity in the creative industries is a hot topic at the moment, after Joaquin Phoenix and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge spoke out at the recent Bafta film awards. “Whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice,” Mr Phoenix said.Spring Issue 2020 out nowPrince William was even more to the point, “in 2020, and not for the first time in the last few years, we find ourselves talking again about the need to do more about diversity in the sector and
 in the awards process,” he said “That simply cannot be right in this day and age.”

Companies need to allow diversity to flourish

While diversity targets are important to bring about change more quickly, recruiting diverse boards is a waste of time if organisational cultures don’t then allow these diverse brains to work at their best, says Kate Lanz, neuropsychologist, CEO of Mindbridge and author of All the brains in the business: The engendered brain in the 21st century organisation.It’s not enough to recruit a diverse team and then sit back and wait for change to happen. In fact, if the culture doesn’t change then these diverse voices won’t be heard.“Promoting more women to board level – and supporting more women to pursue these positions – isn’t all about recruitment,” says Ms Lanz.“The potential of your diverse team will be completely wasted if your organisational culture inadvertently prevents all of the brains in the business from doing their best thinking.” She argues that companies need to create cultures and environments where all of the brains in the business can thrive.
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Benefits of inclusivity: remember that customers are diverse, too

There are multiple proven business benefits to gender inclusivity, from increased engagement and productivity to decreased staff turnover, Ms Lanz says, “In an era where everything is examined and scrutinised, your diversity statistics are also vital for your reputation. Perhaps most importantly, a workforce with diverse viewpoints and approaches will help you to appeal to a wider customer base.”In fact, a business is much more likely to be successful if it is more diverse, says Suki Sandhu OBE, founder and CEO of boutique executive search firm Audeliss and INvolve, an inclusion organisation that helps businesses transform their cultures and create more inclusive workplaces. Mr Sandhu set up Audeliss in 2011 because he didn’t believe enough was being done to combat the lack of diversity across the boards and leadership teams of some of the biggest companies operating in the UK and internationally.“It’s difficult to comprehend why the UK’s biggest companies aren’t doing more to ensure their leadership is as diverse as their customer base,” he says. “Aside from being morally unacceptable, our economic research shows that companies with a diverse leadership are actually significantly more successful.“Unfortunately, this isn’t just limited to the boardroom. Our recent analysis has found that across the FTSE 100, only five CEOs are from an ethnically diverse background – and all five are men. It also highlighted that the FTSE 100 only has five women CEOs.“I’m not saying we should fire all the old white men. However, simply encouraging diversity is no longer enough and we need to ensure that organisations aren’t just making token hires for the sake of ticking boxes. There is an abundance of diverse talent out there and so processes need to be put in place to boost both women and ethnic minorities’ applications for senior roles. Simple ways include anonymising the application process or diversifying the recruitment panel.”However, Mr Sandhu says that the solution doesn’t stop there and there is a lot of work organisations need to undertake. “From a younger talent perspective, it’s important to remember that you can’t be what you can’t see. It’s, therefore, imperative that we celebrate business leaders who are successfully showing the next generation of leaders that it is possible. Until we do that, we are never going to see leadership of UK companies that is reflective of the population.”

How to change the culture from within an organisation?

For a company that wants to change, it is important to look at current recruitment, how it works and where bias might creep in. “Training managers on how to direct and control diversity, and how to avoid unconscious bias is key, especially within the hiring process,” says Rebecca Hollants Van Loocke, COO EMEA at Frasers Hospitality.This might involve looking afresh at who sits around the interview table and makes the hiring decisions. “A diverse interview panel can help to eliminate any unconscious bias and is also a chance to impress a wide range of candidates who will feel represented and that they can see a future for themselves at the company,” she says.This can be backed up by a dedicated Diversity and Inclusion team, made up of people from different walks of life and backgrounds. This way, all employees feel that they have someone to talk to about any related issues. It is an example of the workforce taking equality and diversity seriously. “Other steps include educating employees on all forms of diversity and ensuring all staff areas are accessible, which can help streamline the working day and ensure everyone is fully on board and trained on how to foster inclusivity within the workforce,” says Ms Hollants Van Loocke.Creating more family-friendly policies and benefits – for example, better maternity and paternity pay, and flexible working and hours – can help working parents feel valued.
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Encouraging a greater talent pool

Changing the language you use to describe roles can also help an organisation guard against bias and encourage a wider range of applicants. “Unconscious bias is present at every stage of the recruitment process, but employers can significantly reduce its impact,” says Jenna Beard, sales manager of VHR, an international technical recruitment organisation providing solutions to the aerospace & aviation, F1 & automotive, engineering & defence and marine industries around the world.“Most job advertisements favour male candidates by using ‘masculine-sounding’ words and place more value on perceived leadership or ‘dominant’ qualities than crucial skills such as communication and teamwork. By reviewing the language and content of their job adverts, companies can make their jobs more appealing to candidates of all backgrounds. What’s more, many employers may not realise the barriers presented to applicants with disabilities,” says Ms Beard. This can discourage applications at the earliest stages.To combat this, inclusion training for HR departments can help support the needs of all applicants and employees. “Everyone responsible for hiring should always ask, before arranging an interview, whether the candidate has any accessibility requirements or will need any specific support, and make it clear from the beginning that the employer will do everything they can to provide this support,” she says.Leaders also need to get honest feedback from their staff and find out what their concerns really are – this can be achieved through reverse mentoring. “Reverse mentoring is vital in ensuring business leaders are listening to the experiences of their employees and can proactively work with them to improve both diversity across the business and the working lives of diverse employees,” Ms Beard adds.“Business leaders often speak to us about wanting women in their senior leadership teams, but tell us that they suffer from a lack of female employees at junior levels to promote, as well as a lack of female applicants to senior roles. Just 8 per cent of UK engineers are female, which is the lowest rate in Europe by a considerable margin.”

Avoid tokenism to make diversity count

Boards need to make diversity count, so that recruiting women and ethnic minorities is not an exercise in tokenism, says Dr Anino Emuwa, founder and managing director of Avandis Consulting, an international management consultancy firm in France that provides financial advisory services to entrepreneurs and business leaders.“Where diversity is about the numbers, inclusion is about behaviours, which means showing people that their contributions are welcome and valued. This is when the magic begins to happen for the organisation,” she says.Many executive teams across industries are still unaware ofthe problems within their organisation, says Ms Beard. While most people do not directly attempt to discriminate against applications from diverse people or actively try to hinder the progression of diverse employees, this isn’t the same as being proactively supportive and inclusive of diverse employees.Although there are many factors in the lack of women in executive roles, the solutions are the same. Ms Beard adds, “Listen to diverse employees, review hiring and promotion processes to remove obstacles, and ensure your employer brand is inclusive and accessible to all.”

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Show your company's purpose

In a competitive skills market, diversity, purpose and vision are attractive attributes of a company. Millennials – who are notoriously difficult to recruit and retain – can inject a huge amount of energy into a business, but they also have different priorities from older workers. They are less motivated by pay and status, placing a greater emphasis on a firm’s purpose, social and environmental responsibilities and credentials, as well as openness. By making your company more diverse and offering opportunities for all, you make your brand much more attractive to younger workers.“As the candidate market gets more competitive, people must understand the sway they have over companies,” says Patrick McCrae CEO of art rental consultancy ARTIQ. “I interview so many people a year and I am consistently asked about my company’s purpose and commitment to society; the best talent can now vote with their feet.”Angela Love, director of Active Workplace Solutions, specialises in workplace change: from design and build to furnishings and relocation. Her client base includes Hearst, Channel 4 and The National Lottery Community Fund. She believes diversity should be seen as a pooling of different types of talent. “In today’s modern working environment it’s important to develop flexible attitudes, policies and everyday practices,” she adds.“Businesses of all sizes should think of diversity as being similar to people playing in an orchestra; everyone has different skills, abilities and musical backgrounds, so bring these together under your leadership and watch them create wonderful things together. This way, you will enjoy the benefits of high-performing individuals playing in a team environment. They will flourish and everyone will benefit from a diverse pool talent.”

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