Why creating a diverse workforce may mean ripping up the rule book

The business case for diversity is well established. Over the last year, the increased focus on race and ethnicity has led many companies to realise that their current policies and approach to diversity and inclusion (D&I) have not gone far enough.

Our employees and customers are telling us it’s no longer sufficient for boards to focus targets on gender diversity alone.

2020 saw a number of organisations lead the way in publishing targets to improve ethnic diversity. But what has become clear to a growing number of business leaders and HR professionals is that we need to change the way we look at, and track, the diversity of an organisation in its broadest sense.

In talking to our employees and expert external partners, we have come to understand that to create a truly diverse workforce,we must acknowledge that sometimes when you set a target for one group you can become so focused on it you inadvertently create barriers for other minority groups. This is why more D&I policies now look carefully at how targets and policies intersect.

With this in mind, over the last year my team, with the support of our CEO, Debbie Crosbie and the rest of the leadership team, TSB has carried out an extensive piece of work to identify our own gaps and reassess our diversity and inclusion goals across: Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, disability, gender and LGBT+ representation. We have also started taking a more holistic approach to improving social mobility.

Our approach goes further than simply setting individual gender balance or ethnicity targets, and instead looks to tackle inclusion in the round. I know this is something that many businesses are grappling with, so in recognising some of the support we’ve had, I’d like to share our top three learnings from this process.


Test your thinking on internal and external stakeholders

Any business planning to strengthen its D&I policies should start by listening to its own people. Having honest, open conversation with colleagues with diverse backgrounds and perspectives has helped us to shape, test and retest our approach.

But it is, of course, just as important to also test your thinking on external stakeholders. At TSB, as part of our process for setting our new policy, we engaged with thought-leaders from outside the bank. They not only shared their perspectives which informed our thinking but also, importantly, challenged us on our approach and made us accountable.


You will only achieve real change if you take your people with you

A common problem faced by HR professionals is the difficulty of accessing the data needed to make informed D&I policy decisions. Beyond the most commonplace information pertaining to gender, companies have not historically collected data on ethnicity or sexual orientation- making it impossible not only to assess the issue but also to track it going forward.

We all know that people can be hesitant about sharing their data, so it is crucial to fully explain why this is necessary and demonstrate the benefits that their involvement brings not only for themselves but for the culture of the company as a whole.

At TSB, we now involve all our people leaders in our plans and have incorporated D&I training into our curriculum for all line managers. We’re hopeful that these initiatives will help foster a culture within which open and informed conversations about diversity and inclusion and inclusive behaviours become commonplace.


Be prepared to make hard decisions and adjustments to existing policy

It soon became clear to us that if we were to make a real difference in the long-term, we would need to change the way we were doing things, which would occasionally impact previously established targets.

Achieving gender balance remains a core commitment for TSB and we’ve made good progress. But our data and employee experiences tell us that if we want to drive improved outcomes for all minority groups, we may need to accept slightly slower progress on gender balance in the short-term.

This is not about backing away from our ambition, but reassessing what a truly inclusive organisation looks like and how to make sustainable change.

To make this a reality we’ve reviewed and revised our D&I policies. This has involved making some difficult decisions. However, this was necessary if we are to affect real change at the scale and breadth our people expect.

While we are proud to have embarked on this journey with a commitment to represent all groups, we are only at the beginning of creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace and it's now up to us to show that our words lead to action.


Liz Ashford is HR director of TSB


Further reading

Number of black FTSE 100 leaders drops to zero

How HR can improve LGBT+ employees' access to international assignments

Why now is not the time to scrap unconscious bias training