By Windy Tshepiso Maledu, Senior Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub
Diversity has been pushed up the corporate agenda in recent years with movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo compelling companies to develop more comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) strategies. These efforts have seen significant results, with the proportion of women in senior leadership roles within FTSE 100 companies up almost 10% from 2016 to 2020.
Unfortunately, there are fewer women of colour than their white counterparts at every level of the corporate pipeline, and women only account for eight of the top chief executives in the UK, demonstrating that there is still significant work to be done to achieve truly equal representation for minority employees in the workplace. These efforts cannot simply comprise a box-ticking representation exercise – DE&I must be prioritised as a strategic necessity.
The power of diversity
Organisations are progressively accepting that diversity must be an operational consideration, but still need to further create alignment of the full extent of its role within the business. In 2020, the UK’s Financial Reporting Council found that many companies fix their attention on complying with DE&I reporting requirements rather than creating DE&I initiatives that brings transformation. Diversity is appreciated as a requirement for the modern organisation to comply with policy expectations, but little attention is paid to the outcomes and impact that diversity can bring in the organisation.
There is an invitation for organisation to shift perspective and mindset on their strategy on diversity. Organisations can first identify the benefits that diverse representation at every seniority level brings. The economic case for a diverse employee base is clear: UK government research highlights that the full representation of BAME workers in the labour market would contribute £24 billion to the UK economy. In terms of employee experience, providing an environment that caters to a wide range of staff is essential for employee retention, which is especially important in the current period of unusually high employee turnover. The effect of DE&I policies is significant, influencing everything from the organisation’s output to its internal culture.
Fostering an inclusive environment
Furthering DE&I within an organisation is about more than compliance – tangible efforts must be made to build a truly inclusive workplace culture. This is not a process that can be quantitatively measured by completing a score card, but rather a long-term, strategic intent to create a workplace environment that feels psychologically safe for employees from all backgrounds. Leaders can be equipped with inclusive leadership skills to ensure that a diverse workforce feels accepted within the workplace, and that their values and views are appreciated by management.
Leaders can consider taking lessons from coaching in their approach to leadership, emphasising the personal growth of their employees alongside outputs. Managers can drive meaningful career coaching conversations that aim to uncover what is truly important to individuals in their work and empower them to grow professionally, with both independence and cooperation in mind. The coaching principles and skills can empower managers in the conversations they have with employees, recognising that different employees have different priorities. Ultimately, this mindset shift contributes to a celebration of difference within an organisation, allowing equal access to growth for staff from a variety of backgrounds.
Executing development opportunities
Building an inclusive organisation involves modifying the internal culture and mindset towards DE&I initiatives, but equally includes implementing policies and opportunities that help employees from minority backgrounds to thrive. Learning and development (L&D) programmes can be designed with inclusion in mind; on the most basic level this means reassessing any existing initiatives within the organisation to ensure that they do not discriminate in any way. The next step is to build new L&D initiatives that are designed to drive diversity, such as training on how to recognise and adjust any unconscious biases or learning opportunities that celebrate cultural diversity. Introducing these more formal initiatives both contribute to and are enriched by the journey to creating a more inclusive organisation.
Ultimately, DE&I initiatives need to form part of a broader narrative of inclusion within an organisation. Fulfilling representation quotas is a step in the right direction, but if the organisation is not intentionally prioritising diversity and inclusion at all levels, diverse C-suite representation will not automatically result in an improved experience for employees from minority backgrounds. Leaders can apply an inclusive leadership style, ensuring that all staff members can express themselves uniquely and have an equal opportunity to grow and celebrate difference in the workplace.