Senior business leaders agree business case for diversity is undeniable

 In Blog, CEO's blog

London Works and ELBA held a major event on Friday for business leaders looking at inclusive leadership. We started from the position that the business case for greater diversity is made – the evidence in report after report shows that the more diverse the business, the better the bottom line performance. However, understanding the evidence does not always translate into changing the profile of who gets hired, or how people progress and get appointed to management and leadership positions. After all, culture eats diversity for breakfast – and this was the theme of our seminar. How do organisations change so that they can reap the advantages of diversity?

To make these changes there is a new skill required – inclusive leadership. The audience of business leaders heard from an august gathering of speakers and panellists to get insights into how pioneering organisations have started to shift their culture.

Deputy Mayor Matthew Ryder spoke about getting beyond the inspiring role models and language, and approaching diversity in the same level headed way a business would tackle any other performance issue. Get the data, understand what it is telling you, set some targets and measure progress.

Payal Vasudeva MD of Accenture Strategy and Jane Goldsmtih Talent Partner, Financial Services for EY spoke about the hunt for talent, and making recruitment blind to peoples’ backgrounds. They also spoke about initial nervousness in introducing this subject to clients – and the positive response that in fact it was given.

Martin Stanley, Global Head of Infrastructure and Real Assets for Macquarie highlighted the need to show the business benefit of increasing diversity – and in so doing allowing leadership to hold people accountable for progress, while Mark MacLane Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Barclays spoke about how senior, persistent, sustained internal challenge was needed to move culture along. Finally, Professor Colin Bailey, Principal and President of Queen Mary University of London spoke about the unique profile of QMUL’s students – predominantly from east London, majority BAME and 42% being the first in their family to go to university – what an untapped source of talent they represent.

So what did we all take away – for me there were five things:

  1. Use data and don’t be afraid to publish it – for example gender and BAME pay gaps. It might be ugly, but so is everyone’s and publication gets you ahead of the game.
  2. Be level headed – treat diversity like any other steps you are taking to improve productivity and performance.
  3. Set some targets. That doesn’t mean setting quota, or abandoning meritocracy – quite the opposite. But if you don’t set some gaols, there is no imperative to change – nor anything to measure progress.
  4. Get business managers to accept accountability in the same way as they are accountable for other performance measures. Don’t let them say they are too busy achieving targets to deal with diversity – diversity should be part of how they meet their targets.
  5. Involve everyone inn the debate and progress. Older white men are just as important to include in the drive for more diversity. Barclays “He for She” initiative has been important in helping engage more staff in making the culture changes required.

Oh, and finally, join ELBA and get involved with London Works. We are here to help employers wrestle with these difficult issues and we will be working with them to inform and influence colleagues internally, to put measures in place for recruitment and progression and to help with recruitment which is based on the potential of the human being, not the polish of their CV or their background. It’s going to be very exciting. Do let us know if you want to get involved.

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