· 2 min read · Features

Beyond gender diversity: Don’t forget the ‘tinted ceiling’


Focusing on gender diversity is important, however the processes, mindsets, historical context and resulting barriers that hold back women are the same as those that hold back ethnic minorities and LGBT.

The barriers that impact women and other underrepresented groups are in essence separated by birth. You have to focus on both, because both are drivers of business performance.

Research by the New York-based Center for Talent Innovation, as reported in Financial Times this year, began to take us a step closer.

Involving more than 40 case studies and 1,800 employee surveys, it looked at what it termed “two-dimensional diversity”, namely “inherent diversity”– such as gender and race – combined with “acquired diversity” – such as global experience and language skills.

It found that publicly traded companies with two-dimensional diversity were 45% more likely than those without to have expanded market share in the past year and 70% more likely to have captured a new market. When teams had one or more members who represented a target end-user, the entire team was as much as 158% more likely to understand that user and innovate accordingly.

Continuing on from that theme, the FTSE 100 derives over 70% of its revenues outside the UK. The growth strategies of many companies involve an increased focus on China, India and Africa, to name a few. It would seem to make sense that your key decision-makers should have affinity, understanding and insights into those markets. A one-dimensional focus on gender only gets you part of the way.

The American Sociological Association recently published a report that found for every 1% rise in the rate of gender diversity and ethnic diversity in a workforce, there is a 3% and 9% rise in sales revenue, respectively.

In addition, a forthcoming McKinsey report will be supporting the findings that ethnic diversity in an organisation leads to higher corporate performance. Therefore, we should all move on from proving the business case (for ethnic diversity) to one where we take it as a ‘given.’

The question then remains: why are we not focusing on diversity for all underrepresented groups as vigorously as we do gender?

We do need to continue the momentum on gender diversity - however, if you wish to improve business performance for your clients then you need to concurrently focus on unleashing the talent in other underrepresented groups now, not five to 10 years from today.

We cannot and should not look at diversity through a narrow lens. As we crack the glass ceiling, we cannot ignore the ‘tinted ceiling’ that remains.

HR and its supply chain must be able to "walk and chew gum at the same time", in regards to diversity. To do otherwise, you are literally leaving money on the table for your firm and your clients.

Frank Douglas is the CEO of Caerus Executive and a non-executive director of the CIPD. He can be found on Twitter: @fdoug23