Unlocking Diversity Through Inclusion

The subject of diversity and inclusion is widely recognised as being a major challenge across most sectors. Increasingly, it is accepted that more diverse organisations are more commercially successful. So why is it such a challenge? Why is it so hard to achieve success in attracting, engaging and retaining diverse talent, particularly in leadership roles?

Part of this is, of course, historical. In sectors where there has been limited diversity (be it gender, BAME, age, sexual orientation or other), experienced leaders from a diverse background are a scarce resource. However, the issue is not old and yet change has been slow. The real reason is far more fundamental and is entrenched in the habitual cultural and behavioural aspects of how we operate and lead.

The context here is important. Ethically, it is the right thing to do. We should provide fair and equal opportunity to all. Commercially, it is critical. In the US, women influence or manage 85% of all purchasing decisions and account for $7trillion of consumer and business spending. In the UK, it is in the region of 70-80%, and the expectation is that women will directly control 75% of all household spending by 2028. EY estimated that globally female income is $18trillion. UK census data show that there are 6.4million BAME people, and this population represents 16% of undergraduates. Enabling a business to tap into this market (as a customer and employer) is not just a nice to have. So how can you create an open, inclusive environment which unlocks this diversity?

In her article, ‘What Gets Measured Gets Done’, Dr Maureen Giovannini illustrates that an inclusive environment strengthens everyone’s capacity to commit full effort to the learning, performance and development required for exceptional business results. She defines Inclusion as a state of being valued, respected and supported. This is based on an organisational culture, management practices and interpersonal relationships that support the full utilisation of a diverse work force at all levels and in all functions of an organisation. Yet too often initiatives to create such an environment merely scratch the surface and lack the depth and continuity for success. At best, they can become costly failures, at worst, these failures can cement entrenched scepticism around the need to change.

At its essence it is a question of culture. It is about promoting a culture of transparency and inclusivity. One where your difference is embraced. Too often diverse candidates are expected to assimilate into a pre-defined and dominant corporate culture (Thomas and Gabarro) which can not only create significant tension, but their specific knowledge isn’t harnessed and they are unable to perform to their highest potential.

Enabling and driving cultural change is always difficult. As Dr Edgar Schein from MIT points out, most culture change programmes fail because they are just announcements of new values without a change in what new behaviour will be required and how the structure and reward system will make that happen. The only way to convince people to change is to show that past behaviours no longer produce optimum results and which new behaviours would work better. This must be espoused from the top down. When thinking about an inclusive culture, the challenge lies within understanding what behaviours to address, how to enable leadership to adapt and ensuring change is sustainable.

So, practically, how can we achieve this? Below are some tangible steps successful CEOs take to address this:

  1. Set relevant, realistic, measurable goals – understand which behaviours/competencies leaders need to acquire to achieve your inclusive culture goals
  2. Establish accountability and reward success – make sure recognition systems support your goals and reward accordingly
  3. Provide education, skill building and coaching to master those behaviours; hold leaders accountable and monitor the implementation throughout the year
  4. Track behavioural change through 180 or 360 feedback tools – look to see how change is being reflected in daily work life
  5. Document and measure the impact of change by looking at the correlation between documented behavioural change and positive changes in specific organisational indicators (e.g. retention, productivity, customer satisfaction, market share in ‘emerging’ markets, etc.)
  6. Finally, identify barriers to an inclusive culture that have been identified through the process…and act to remove them!

It sounds so simple. The real test is in the patience, diligence, courage and focus to go beyond individual learning programmes and keep the spotlight on behavioural change, making organisational, systems and reward adjustments to enable an inclusive culture to flourish. Once a leadership team truly reflects these values and behaviours, the rest of the organisation will follow.

Diversity, therefore, is an admirable and commercially astute goal, but the real prize is creating an inclusive culture. If this is in place, a diverse workforce will not only evolve, but it will remain. Inclusion and Diversity, not Diversity and Inclusion.

If you would like to discuss the issue of Inclusion or Diversity with our experts at Norman Broadbent, and explore how we could help you, please contact;

Ed Bransby-Zachary, Managing Director, Client Services ed.bransby-zachary@normanbroadbent.com

Jacqui Pinnell, Group Head, Research & Insight jacqui.pinnell@normanbroadbent.com

Dr Stephen Sloan, Director, Leadership Consulting stephen.sloan@normanbroadbent.com