For all the talk of the ‘business case’ for workplace diversity, in reality progress is patchy.
Part of the problem has been ill-conceived campaigns to hire and incentivise more women, ethnic minorities and gay employees. Managers on the receiving end of these start to see diversity as just another initiative, breeding what The Fawcett Society describes as ‘barrier bosses’, who are more than twice as likely to be against equal opportunities at work than the general population.
Read on to hear the Chartered Management Institute’s (CMI) useful tips on inclusivity.
But sentiment appears to be shifting again. In many organisations, the focus is moving towards mind-set over metrics.
Business leaders are going beyond the business case, and are focusing instead on the behaviours that make a workplace inclusive. The ultimate prize is better-balanced and more innovative organisations.
This latest shift may even be leading to a less purely proﬁt-centric approach to talent management, one whereby ethical aims are made more explicit.
So how are the best organisations beating ‘pale, male and stale’ and moving beyond tick box diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives? They tend to share the following set of six common characteristics.
1. They have a story
Inclusive organisations can articulate the purpose and values of their D&I measures in clear, simple terms.
“Don’t start with the aim of attracting diverse talent; start with what you’re trying to do and why,” advises Kate Headley, founder of The Clear Company, which helps organisations develop inclusive best practice.
Organisations should ask themselves questions such as: why would someone from a diﬀerent race or gender be valuable for new product development? What competencies will be needed? How does hiring someone with autism ﬁt with the organisation’s goals?
2. They lead by example
Behaviour among the top brass sends the strongest message about whether a company’s commitment is more than skin deep.
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took time oﬀ for paternity leave, it showed he was genuinely behind the social media giant’s family-friendly policies.
Inclusive leaders share four traits, according to Catalyst: they enable individuals to learn and develop; they have humility and are receptive to feedback; they have the courage of their convictions; and they give people accountability.
“Managers will be looking at what leaders do, no matter what’s being said,” says inclusion consultant Charlotte Sweeney. “It’s everyday behaviour that creates culture. So leaders need to link inclusive aims to values, behaviour and KPIs.”
3. They develop empathy
Inclusive workplaces thrive on tolerance and respect for ‘the other’. “Sometimes, it helps to think about what it’s like not to be included,” says Zimmerman.
At one workshop, a group of male tech employees were asked to cross the ﬂoor if they’d ever felt they couldn’t contribute to conversations about sport. Needless to say, more than one man felt excluded – and relieved to discover they weren’t alone.
“We have this idea of what’s expected in a corporation, and we perpetuate it to ﬁt in,” says Zimmerman. “Those looking from the outside might think, ‘I don’t ﬁt’. But lots of us inside the organisation don’t ﬁt, either.”
Inclusive managers must strike a sometimes tricky balance between valuing what is unique in the individual and making them feel included as part of a team.
Rewards based on team performance can help, but, ultimately, it’s down to managers to get to know their people better.
4. They give people a voice
Whether it’s just encouraging everyone to speak up in meetings, or establishing a network, inclusive organisations give everyone licence and a ‘safe space’ to talk freely.
One ﬁnancial services ﬁrm went so far as to issue a statement to staﬀ that people at all levels can speak out in meetings if they see or hear something that jars with the company’s values.
“If you can do only one thing, talk to your team, ask questions and listen,” says Kabel.
5. They use empathy
Inclusive organisations use data both to expose weak spots and monitor progress of talent development groups.
Those in the vanguard publish annual reports on diversity. Staﬀ surveys, 360-degree appraisals, Myers-Briggs type indicators and external information will all give you a clear picture of where you might be weak.
Vodafone analysed three years of data and discovered it was losing a signiﬁcant number of female employees within a year of their return from maternity leave. So, it rolled out a minimum 16week paid maternity leave policy across the entire global operation, followed by six months at 30 hours a week on full pay.
But you have to make sure you get the right data.
Take disability: a large proportion of the workforce may suﬀer from an ‘invisible’ disability – stress, back pain or a gradual loss of hearing, for example – but many employees would be reluctant to call their condition a disability, or may not think it qualiﬁes.
“You already have disabled people in your business, whether you can see their disability or not,” says Nasser Siabi of Microlink, which has worked with organisations such as Lloyds Bank on assistive technology and workplace adjustments.
The solution, he suggests, is to destigmatise disability and to reframe interventions as a simple matter of managing talent. “You give graphic designers the right tools to do their job, why should a disabled person be any diﬀerent?”
GCHQ and SAP have both actively sought to hire people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. The remarkable German company Auticon hires mainly people on the autism spectrum as software testers. These organisations see their employees’ unique abilities as a positive asset rather than a cost.
6. They recruit for difference
If you want to enrich your organisations with more varied viewpoints, you have to recruit them. But research on bias has made it clear that it’s unwise to go with your gut when hiring. Our tendency to hire in our own image is well documented.
So, what works when it comes to hiring with inclusivity in mind?
Employers have played with a few options. Accountancy ﬁrm EY last year dispensed with the need for UCAS points or a minimum 2.1 degree for 2016 candidates, opting instead for its own strengths-based approach.
Others have tried redacted CVs, which block out personal information and (sometimes) where you went to university. But experts are sceptical, pointing out that they still leave clues, and that if there’s an issue that might trigger bias, it’ll only come out later.
Using a mix of interviewers is one eﬀective way to guard against bias. Incentivising referrals around diversity also sends a message about how much inclusion matters: at Intel, the $4,000 referral fee for successful female, veteran or ethnic minority hires is double the basic referral rate.
Job candidates, whoever they are, will try to conform. If you’re trying to attract diﬀerence, make it clear that this is valued. Otherwise, you’re already defeating your own aims.