19 March 2019

How to ensure workplaces are diverse and inclusive

With increased attention on issues of diversity both in the media and business, organisations are beginning to recognise the clear benefits of becoming more diverse and inclusive.

The topic is increasingly a focus on most boardroom tables with leaders understanding how diversity and inclusion (D&I) in businesses can enhance employee engagement and productivity, make companies more attractive to new talent and can even increase efficiency. Despite all of this, progress in creating diverse and inclusive workforces has been slow. McKinsey reported that from 2015-17, average gender representation on executive boards only increased by 2% (to 14% overall) and ethnic and cultural diversity by 1% (to 13% overall), so there is still a long way to go in achieving workplaces that represent all aspects of society.  

Diverse teams drive profits

Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams are now 21% more likely to experience above average profitability, suggesting that promoting diversity in top teams has a direct influence on the bottom line. Organisations that are addressing the challenge of building an inclusive culture across ethnic diversities could also see improvements to organisational effectiveness. Having diversity at the highest levels of leadership serves as a signal to employees and other stakeholders that an organisation fully understands and values the community and customers that they serve. However, despite the surge of leadership development, support for working parents and D&I training, increased gender and ethnic diversity in leadership is still slow. Organisations may claim that changes take time to implement and show results, but the Hampton-Alexander Review suggests that a dramatic change in pace is needed, citing that almost 40% of all FTSE 350 leadership appointments would need to go to women over the next 2 years to reach their recommended 2020 gender balance target of 33%.  

Who’s doing it well? Spotlight on Vodafone

Companies that report increased performance as a result of their focus on diversity are those that are brave enough to loudly proclaim their commitments to D&I programmes. Vodafone have publicly declared an ambition to be the world’s best employer by 2025 and have some D&I initiatives in place as part of this. Bold steps towards this ambition have included launching the first ever global maternity programme, providing women across 30 countries with a minimum of 16 weeks’ maternity leave. They have also introduced ReConnect, the world’s largest recruitment programme for women on career breaks.

Some top tips from Synergy
  • Audit your talent strategy as part of your D&I efforts to benchmark your anticipated vacancies over the next 12 to 36 months. Then consider which recruitment, L&D and talent management processes you could improve to make them more inclusive and increase diversity. You could try to ensure equal numbers of men and women are interviewed for senior positions and identify high potential individuals for leadership mentoring programmes across minority groups.
  • Be brave and open about where you know there is work to be done and publicly commit to goals – this will show your people and stakeholders that you’re serious about improving things.
  • Celebrate and showcase your successes. Let people know when you’re doing positive things for D&I and be proud of it.
  • Get buy-in from the board level – sponsorship and advocacy in your D&I measures from senior management will help to ensure things get done.


Increasing diversity is not just a tick-box exercise

There is a marked drop-off amongst ethnic minorities between the point of graduating from university and getting into leadership positions. And this burden doubles as a black woman – we know that women hold a disproportionately small share of roles within executive teams, but women of colour claim an even smaller number of leadership positions. As leader of LGBT charity Stonewall, which works to stand against discrimination, CEO Ruth Hunt recognises the difficulty of surrounding your top table with opinions that differ from your own. Unconscious bias comes into play and Ruth comments that it is much easier to run a business with people who see the world in the same way as you. It can be uncomfortable and difficult to be constantly challenged, particularly in the face of adversity. Perhaps the difficult nature of working with a diverse range of individuals outweighs the potential benefits at executive level. And on top of that, there are rarely any quick fixes for D&I, making it hard to prove an obvious ROI. Ruth recommends that diversity efforts can’t be a quick fix or tick-box exercise but must be recognised as at least a 3-year journey. It needs to be integrated into your organisational purpose, vision and values in order for it to truly become part of your culture. Increased training around issues like diversity and unconscious bias can help managers and further coaching is a great way of encouraging them to put their learning into practice and embed new behaviours or ways of working.

Some top tips from Synergy
  • Set up a taskforce with people across your organisation who represent the different communities of both your employee and customer base. The key to a truly inclusive workplace is allowing everyone to have a voice, not just those in positions of power. Work with your taskforce to identify how they would like to be heard and what can be done to encourage everyone to bring their whole selves to work
  • Assess voluntary groups and employee channels – who is being represented and what is working well? What can be learnt from these groups and shared with others to help them develop? Which employee channels are being used effectively to share messaging within the wider employee community?
  • The coaching team here at Synergy are always on hand to talk through your current challenges and recommend suitable coaching to embed the behaviours you need from your managers.


Who’s doing it well? Spotlight on Sodexo

Sodexo are a great example of how clear goals and commitments which align to performance measures can support progress around diversity and inclusion. They have a clear approach to their D&I strategy which focuses on 5 key areas:

  • Gender
  • People with disabilities
  • Generations (age)
  • Culture and origins
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity

  For them, achieving gender balance was the starting point. Following a pledge to boost female executive representation to 40% by 2020, leadership bonuses were aligned to achieving gender goals. An approach that seems to have paid off, women currently comprise 32% of the board and 50% of the overall workforce. When it comes to gender diversity on executive teams around the world, the US, Singapore and the UK have some of the strongest representation, but it is Australia which leads as the highest performing country, with 21% of executive roles and 30% of board positions filled by women.

Some top tips from Synergy

Global companies should tap into the best practice demonstrated by the strongest organisations and markets. If Australia is trailblazing with gender diversity, try to understand the working practices companies there are using and look out for cultural elements that encourage inclusive practices. Then use these observations to replicate healthy working practices and approaches to increase improvements. Organisations could also use behavioural science techniques to test how nudging certain behaviour can improve inclusivity. Our in-house behavioural science expert is always happy to help out with identifying these techniques and how to put them into practice.  

  Progress to become inclusive and diverse continues at a pace slower than some would like, and there is a worry that the obligation to publish gender pay data is pushing organisations into showing externally that they are moving in the right direction without a real drive to make actual change. True D&I should be encouraged by a passion to do the right thing for your people, your customers and your communities. If you’d like to chat to our team more on how to ensure your workplace is diverse, get in touch and we’ll be happy to talk.

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