Trade secrets: Making a success of diversity

Our experts

Claire Ighodaro, non-executive director, and council member of the Learning and Skills Council and the Open University. A former finance director, she was the first female president of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

Sir Andrew Likierman, professor of management practice at the London Business School where he is working on ways to improve performance
measurement in organisations.

Sharpen your objectives

The problem: Poorly articulated objectives

There are many reasons for starting diversity programmes. It may be to attract staff in competition with others, to make the organisation more representative of the wider community, or to demonstrate a commitment to existing staff as well as fulfilling legal requirements. There are also many ways of defining diversity, including ethnic mix, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, nationality, social background or gender. But organisations are often not precise about either the definition of diversity or what it is designed to achieve. So it’s no wonder that they don’t know whether they’ve succeeded.

The solution

Clearly define your objectives in relation to diversity. Apply the same rigour for these as you would to objectives in other aspects of your organisation. Spell out what all groups need to do, and communicate these objectives logically -rather than in waffly management-speak -to all levels of the business.

Be consistent

The problem: Poor links between measures and objectives

Charts showing the proportion of women or people of Afro-Caribbean origin at higher levels of the organisation inching forward year by year aren’t real indicators of the success of diversity. But if the idea is to improve the quality of decisions made by a wider mix of those at decision-making levels, there is no point in measuring the mix of clerical staff or how many people are being trained.

The solution

Make your objectives internally consistent. If there are a variety of reasons for the programme, make sure you reconcile each of the objectives for each area. For example, there’s a short-term benefit in terms of your organisation demonstrating its commitment to diversity, but there will be a long-term payback in terms of better decision-making.

It’s not just the numbers

The problem: Badly thought-out targets

Most diversity targets are arbitrary and few link to other objectives or goals in the organisation. And while absolute targets can be effective for ‘jump starting’ a programme, relative measures will often be more appropriate after that.

The solution

Understand the limitations of the measurement process. Numbers alone won’t give you the whole diversity story. For example, a target for 10% of senior staff to be from ethnic minorities after three years may turn out to be unrealistic because of a time lag in getting people to apply for specific jobs. Spell this out in a clear commentary, giving the context of the original decision, rather than include it in a list of targets that have not been achieved.

Improve your data

The problem: Poor data

Age and gender statistics are easier to come by than disability or sexual orientation data, and what gets reported tends to get skewed towards what’s available. Data problems are made worse by variable rates of return for questionnaires.

The solution

Improve your data. Start by making sure that there is enough data available to see how the initiative is progressing. Where diversity is difficult to identify, such as in the areas of sexual orientation or disability, ask for help from representative groups or other organisations.

Measure better

The problem: Results not linked to actions

Once a programme is over, it is not easy to establish a clear link between the programme and what happens thereafter. Many reasons could be given about why attitudes or staff mix have changed, and the connection to the diversity programme may well be obscure.

The solution

Devise better measures. If you’re going to measure attitudes as well as staff mix, the results will be less tangible, but could still prove useful. Where possible, make comparisons with other organisations – sharing information with others should make setting milestones easier. In areas such as diversity training, focus on long-term outcomes – such as an interview six months down the line – rather than relying on feedback sheets delivered at 5pm that day.

Case study: Lehman Brothers makes diversity a reality

Investment bank Lehman Brothers’ diversity and inclusion programme sits right at the heart of its leadership agenda, and has sponsorship from the chief executive.

It includes divisional programmes, which require heads of department to complete diversity business plans on an annual basis and review progress at mid-year and year-end.

Lehman Brothers has also appointed a European diversity steering committee and senior diversity champions to develop a regional strategy in conjunction with its divisional objectives.

There is also a cross-divisional group of diversity representatives to foster communication and encourage best practice.

The key learning points from the programme are:

  • Ensure the strategy is understood and relevant at all levels of the organisation – that people understand the ‘why’
  • Diversity and inclusion must be institutionalised into key business processes, systems and structures leading to sustainable benefits
  • Realise that the leadership of the organisation is the real culture change agent
  • Things that get measured get done
  • Focus on organisational style and behaviour not just on the physical make-up of the workforce.

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