Creating an inclusive culture is the key to attracting a diverse workforce

So chief executives and top teams continue to demand the business case for the positive adoption of gender diversity before they act. Is that because their team has: a) not provided ‘the case’; b) provided a case, but one that is not credible; or c) it is credible but leadership is not really serious about doing what it takes.

Most CEOs understand macro-economic data, the market and the competition, and the cost-drivers of product and service delivery. So faced with data on demographic change, data on the cost of illegal discrimination practices and the considerable influence of female consumers, why do HR leaders and their diversity teams still have this business case challenge?

We have been looking at this again at Opportunity Now, where I am a board member. There are some fantastic best practices in many UK and international organisations.

Those who ‘get it’ do the hard work of embedding diversity practices in all aspects of the business through their supply chain, as we showed in our report Diversity Dimensions in 2005. They actively monitor metrics, in particular those areas of employer satisfaction that lead to higher retention and lower operating costs, as well as retained knowledge, experience and customer relationships. They know that there is a lag effect between the hard slog of creating an inclusive culture and improved performance. They are prepared to drive through economic cycles and short-term dips in profits by insisting on sustaining diversity principles. They deliberately choose the best people for the job, having levelled the playing field, and are delighted that this means more women in middle, senior and top management roles. This is followed by the virtuous circle of less ‘pale male and stale’ politicking, the elimination of unveiled tokenism to diversity, less stereotypical decision making, and more of a place where women want to work.

CEOs who really get their business to this point should be congratulated for their leadership – it’s part of their role in corporate sustainability. But once over the ‘tipping point’, they must continue to invest.

Inclusive agenda

The inclusiveness agenda today is subtle and complex. There are specific issues facing different ethnic groups of women, women of different ages, working single parents and couples, all of whom have and need careers, but are balancing their own needs with increasing eldercare as well as childcare. These issues often require different responses at the practical level, but the good news is that, if the organisational culture is one of instinctive inclusiveness, those challenges will and can be met head on.

Compare this with the CEO who mouths the words (occasionally) and only pays passing lip service to diversity; the CEO who delegates to the HR team as it’s ‘their issue to fix’, and who does not focus on the responsibilities of their own management chain; the CEO who does not encourage key metrics to be hardwired into the operations, but is content with figures produced once a year for the governance ‘tick box’; the CEO who pays scant regard to what goes on in the bowels of the business – those micro-inequalities that feed on excessive testosterone, creating a bilious reaction for all those who just want a place where gender is not a career or performance differentiator.

Many of us will have witnessed much of this either at first hand or as suppliers or customers. In which type of organisation would you advise anyone to invest their employment, savings or buying decisions, if all other things were broadly equal?

Young people coming into the workplace, in particular, see things differently. Their choice of where to work is less influenced by the manacles of defined benefit pensions and more by working cultures. Investors of capital, whether it is their own or that of others, should positively search for those organisations that actively encourage inclusive cultures.

Does your business ‘get’ diversity? E-mail your comments to:

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