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Time to take on the diversity dilemma

by Patrick Voss, managing director, Jeito,

August 16 2016 - Facebook is the latest in a long line of organisations to have a spotlight shone on its diversity performance.

The sheer volume of press coverage generated around the world by the story shows that workplace diversity is a topic that people feel strongly about. Giving the wrong impression when it comes to diversity could detrimentally impact how a company is viewed by customers, investors and, importantly, potential employees.

While many companies are aware of a need for greater diversity in the workplace, with many making positive steps in the right direction, most are struggling to succeed.

Where to start?

Begin by having a clear focus as to why having a diverse workforce is important for the organisation. Being able to outline the company vision and approach clearly to employees is critical in encouraging buy-in to the concept. Be clear about why this is a strategic priority for the company and not just a brand exercise.

It may not just be about ethnicity, but could include broadening the diversity of skills, experience, culture and background in order to harness the best mix for the company or specific teams. For many organisations, for example, there is a clear business need to reflect the expectations of clients, partners and other stakeholders.

At the most basic level, simply head out into the organisation and look around. Do teams/departments look the same? Are there more men or women? What is the average age? Some of this you might not be able to influence easily, for example, where your team may mirror the local population, but it can give an inkling as to how diverse an organisation really is.

Taking things a step further, look at the data that already exists in the workplace. Diversity and inclusion data can come in many different shapes and sizes, from recruitment details to employee surveys or evaluations such as benchmarking against peers.

This may give an overarching view as to whether teams reflect the company's clients and if there are any key skills, experience or strengths missing.

Digging deeper should show any patterns that exist. For example, are certain groups more likely to get promoted or hired in the first place? Do some employees leave work to have children and are then less likely to return? Are certain groups less likely to take up certain policies or working practices?

There will be some roles where the pipeline and representation of groups and cultures will be at different levels. For the long-list of candidates, recognise the limits of time and resources that most HR functions and line managers have. Challenge internal or external recruiters to cast outside of the traditional pool and see what else is out there. Perhaps consider spending 10 minutes personally posting jobs in one or two new forums. You never know, you might get a number of people through the door that would surprise you.

When staff from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds do come through to interview, their own expectations and perceptions, as well as the company's approach to interviews, may have an adverse impact on any outcome.

For example, if anecdotal stories being told at interviews or induction meetings refer to drunken nights out or a particular employee 'just liking a good joke', that can speak volumes to people who don't come from the same culture or feel like they don't fit in.

For firms really wanting to level the playing field, running programmes that cater to the diverse range of needs of potential employees outside of the hiring process can have a big impact. These can help build a committed pool of potential talent, and allow different groups of people to get to know the company and its culture. They can also help employees gain a better understanding of potential candidates, making all parties feel more comfortable which can impact on how well they perform at interview stage.

(Front) Line Managers

Line managers tend to be the centre of any cultural change. While it's easy for HR teams or executives to create diversity and inclusion programmes and priorities, it's up to line managers to implement these as well as meet their own targets.

Understanding how to learn from and approach potentially awkward conversations is critical. Any training must avoid becoming too directive, so that participants don't feel too patronised or turned-off.

The key is self-awareness. Line managers require support to help them become more comfortable in understanding what they do and don't know and being open enough with employees to have the conversations that both sides may initially find challenging.

They could speak to colleagues and peers - including those in Employee Network Groups - and begin to ask questions to understand in a safe-space what they may or may not be comfortable talking about at work. Creating simple scenarios based on this and discussing how they might approach each topic is a great way to boost confidence.

On a more practical level, companies could look for opportunities where change can easily take place. For example, if one person leaves an established team and needs to be replaced, or if the team is growing, it's the perfect time to take a step back and look around. Instead of replacing or adding like-for-like, would a different set of skills, approach or experience help challenge the team to perform better?

As Facebook and other companies who publish data have found out, this can lead to public criticism, but this has to be seen as a way of looking forward and leading change, rather than burying heads in the sand when it comes to diversity. In that respect, decisions to publish data are welcome and companies should be congratulated on being more open.

In order to stay relevant as employers and brands into the future, however, they need to start with what they can change and then keep going from there. It does get easier, and it will bear fruit. Just set a starting point and evolve with the world around you.

About Patrick Voss

Patrick is the MD of Jeito, a culture and engagement consultancy, with Diversity and Inclusion at its core. He helps companies clarify their current priorities, challenge their own thinking to get to the right answers and then put in place the most pragmatic change programmes to make a difference. Patrick is also a co-founder of Radius Business, a network and consultancy focused on finding the commercial value of Diversity, Inclusion and Employee Engagement for clients.

Prior to setting up Jeito and Radius Business, Patrick is from a corporate background (PwC, Microsoft) in strategy, brand, marketing, and project management. He brings this commercial insight to ensure any investments in Diversity and Inclusion have a strong business focus. He has worked, delivered and facilitated for organisations on customer insight and journey mapping, internal and external communications, strategies for pitching, marketing, organisational development, training and diversity and inclusion.



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