What works, what doesn’t and why

In the second of a series of three articles, Professor Amin Rajan and Sharon
Harris narrate the experiences of companies that have sought to create a
diverse workforce to raise the bottom line

If diversity management is about accessing the best talent and leveraging it
to deliver targeted business outcomes, all HR practices need to be open and
fair: meritocratic yet sensitive to inter-personal differences.

With these considerations in mind, companies in our sample have implemented
12 distinct measures under three headings. Although listed separately, they
have been treated holistically. They are targeted at three aims.

The first is to ensure fairness in recruitment and selection. Jobs are
widely advertised, using both conventional and unconventional sources, and
duplication is minimised in the selection process.

The second provides customised training to managers and employees, and
mentoring support to women and ethnic minority groups entering senior
positions.

The last seeks to promote work-life balance for all employees – men as well
as women – forging links with local communities and special interest groups.

Embedding diversity in processes

Some companies in our sample have overt initiatives on diversity, others
have relied on an unusual degree of common sense. Either way, they have sought
to incorporate their ideas into day-to-day management practices, so they occur
as part of daily business routines. The main emphasis is on:

– Seeking new ideas

– Creating or joining support networks

– Building diversity into sales and marketing campaigns

– Receiving clients’ buy-in

– Observing national laws

– Forging links with disadvantaged business suppliers

– Changing the composition of teams at every level to reflect diversity of
people and/or style.

The following examples illustrate how companies are embedding diversity into
everyday practices:

– In a pharmaceutical company, eliciting new ideas has had a two-pronged
goal: to ensure the diverse workforce does lead to innovations that improve
processes and products; and to make line managers realise innovation relies on
diverse styles and approaches

– Joining external networks in one bank has led to three aims of good
practice: to gain insights into the latest thinking; to swap ideas; and to use
membership of an external body to generate subtle internal pressures for change

– Reflecting diversity in sales and marketing campaigns was introduced at an
IT company with two aims in mind – to emphasise that the company is in tune
with changing customer demographics, and to project the image of a progressive
employer that reflects the social mix of the wider society

– In an aerospace company, getting buy-in of diversity principles from
clients has had three effects: generating external pressures for internal
change; spreading good practices in the supply chain; and creating a national
pool of women and minority candidates for senior jobs.

This demonstrates that embedding diversity into day-to-day practices has
been a matter of sound business practice, not big, costly initiatives.

Creating leadership culture

If there was one point that came through repeatedly in our research, it was
that management leadership at all levels made a huge difference.

The companies in our sample are attempting to create a leadership culture by
helping managers at all levels to develop a style that shows sensitivity to
different groups of employees, their specific needs and work styles. They are
also creating certain formal mechanisms to reinforce that style.

As many as 60 per cent of medium and large companies in our sample carry out
staff perception surveys: and increasingly questions on diversity and inclusion
are featured on them. Such upward feedback has proved especially useful in
creating a leadership culture and some organisations have gone even further, as
indicated by the following examples.

A global company with an ambitious initiative has revamped its list of
leadership competencies to include diversity. Among others, these focus on how
to:

– Value differences and improve business performance

– Learn about yourself and deal with any bias you may have

– Build inclusive relationships by active listening and understanding

– Build inclusive workgroups and teams

– Cope with behaviours that exclude and limit people.

A financial services group has revamped its competencies to focus on how to:

– Encourage creativity in a structured work environment

– Overcome ingrained barriers to creativity

– Convert new ideas into product and process improvements.

Knowing the blockers

At the same time, it is worth emphasising that not all diversity initiatives
have been successful. Paradoxically, the internal and external forces that
promoted workforce diversity are also the ones which can constrain progress.

In today’s high-pressure work environment, numerous constraints have
emerged. The key ones include:

– Time pressures on managers

– Ingrained attitudes and inexperience

– A culture of presenteeism.

It is worth emphasising that in many organisations, the culture of
presenteeism still exists, despite overt initiatives on flexible working,
annualised hours and remote working. Employees still feel they may be perceived
as not pulling their weight if they do not work the same hours as their boss or
peers. The out-of-sight, out-of-mind syndrome is proving hard to shift.

Four examples serve to underline these constraints:

– In an insurance company, a combination of trading difficulties and
departures in the top team led to managers losing interest in what was
otherwise an enlightened initiative to increase the share of women in middle
and senior jobs. Sustained interest at the top proved essential for it to
survive

– One asset management firm paid so much attention to recruitment and
selection issues that line managers saw diversity as yet another fad; here
today, gone tomorrow. Emphasis on an inclusive management style is just as
important

– The whole infrastructure of a diversity council was created to underpin
the corporate vision in one engineering company. But the firm failed to pass on
this communication to the line managers, most of whom found out about the initiative
from the corporate intranet. Consultation and communication are vital

– A retail bank promoted numerous women and members of minority groups to
middle and then senior positions in different regions in the UK. Two unforeseen
problems subsequently arose: the individuals suffered a sense of isolation
since they did not have personal networks on which they could rely for advice
and support; and their bosses found it difficult to manage them, as they had
never had to manage anyone different from themselves before. Personal networks
and mentoring support are important.

Harnessing the power of perception

In the final analysis, line managers are seen to be the key to success.
Accordingly, a significant effort is going into raising their awareness on
three aspects of human nature.

First, intelligent reasonable people think along the same lines, but their
perception of reality can be very different. That does not mean they have to be
‘brought into line’.

Second, the greater the differences in people’s styles and approaches, the
higher the scope for creativity.

This is because creativity is not simply a linear process of knowledge
creation, but rather a random explosion of energy often borne out of
frustration and curiosity not normally associated with individuals with similar
minds, persuasions and perceptions.

Third, stereotyping is nothing more than a shortcut to forming judgements
about people without getting to know them or their unique strengths. To
minimise it, managers need to:

– Cultivate the ability, willingness and self-discipline to listen

– Question their own values and bias when difficult situations arise

– Recognise that clarity of goals leads to clarity of actions.

Amin Rajan is the chief executive of CREATE and Sharon Harris is the UK
head of diversity at Deutsche Bank

Next week…

The third and final article in this series will look at how these
initiatives have affected the corporate bottom line.

This article is based on the report Harnessing Workforce Diversity to Raise
the Bottom Line, available from CREATE. For further details contact Jenny
Latham on 01892 526757, fax 01892 542988, or e-mail jenny@create-research.co.uk

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