In 2020, for example, the UK was almost a year early in hitting its goal, set in 2016, of women filling a third of seats on the boards of the top 350 UK listed companies.
Evidently, employee diversity should always be on the agenda and a part of wider workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I).
Employers must be mindful of more than just who they recruit from an available applicant base: they should also be aware of how diverse their talent pool is in the first place, and how employees from diverse backgrounds will be included once they’ve joined the company.
Diversifying talent pools
When it comes to D&I, businesses must adopt an inclusive approach from the outset. If candidates for a role are disproportionately heterosexual, white and male for example and people from other backgrounds aren’t applying, then employers should reconsider the messages they’re putting out into the marketplace.
It’s hugely important to think about branding: how is your business perceived by people from diverse backgrounds - do they feel reflected in the brand? Looking at applicant/employee reviews on websites such as Glassdoor can provide a great insight into how your business’ brand is viewed, and the extent to which individuals from diverse backgrounds feel represented and included.
Another way of diversifying talent pools is by assessing prospective employees on their strength and potential, rather than education or qualifications. There are a number of top organisations which have taken a significant step towards doing so, by hiding the schools and universities listed on applications from hiring managers, to prevent candidates from being favoured for attending a well-regarded school or Russell Group university.
With this attitude, such organisations both acknowledge and play a part in solving the lack of social mobility in the UK. These types of steps are vital for employee longevity: a talent pool that reflects the wider society can be instrumental in preventing individuals of different social backgrounds from experiencing imposter syndrome and feeling like ‘token’ employees.
It’s also important that employees from all backgrounds are supported after the induction process - simply recruiting is not enough, people need to be given an equal voice and made to feel a true sense of belonging.
Mentoring schemes are a great way of doing this: when led by senior individuals from underrepresented groups, they empower diverse employees in the workplace by opening up networking opportunities and exemplifying that they too can be successful.
Meanwhile, ‘reverse mentoring’ is an interesting and effective way of giving a voice to junior employees from various backgrounds, by enabling them to mentor senior leaders and use their own experiences and perspectives to educate them.
Flexible working strategies designed to support diversity should also make additional provisions which help employees to stay connected and included. Alternative working options are excellent in that they provide freedom to people who might struggle to physically show up in the office due to factors such as caring responsibilities (which are still mostly assumed by women), a disability or mental health illness.
Of course, in the post-pandemic world where some people will be able to return to their place of work, it’s inevitable that flexible workers will be physically absent from some of the more impromptu face-to-face discussions, but it’s vital that this doesn’t prevent them from having their say or feeling included. So, provisions should be made for employees who work flexibly – they should be able to dial in to meetings via video conference and any important takeaways from discussions should be shared with them.
Businesses need to take an all-encompassing approach to D&I in order to successfully implement it: in addition to thinking about who is recruited, they must think about whether the diversity of their employee base is reflected in their applicant pools and how those individuals will be included once they’ve been employed.
Stuart Affleck is the director of Brook Graham at Pinsent Masons Vario a D&I consultancy.