Diversity needs to be reflected in leadership

The Colour of Power reported that only 51 out of 1,097 powerful positions are filled by people from BAME backgrounds, a sign of the continuing lack of diversity in businesses.

With the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, many businesses are pledging to make their hiring and talent management processes more representative, but it’s important that symbolic statements become genuinely reflected in company values and leadership. If companies vocally support the movement, but don’t take action, the words are empty.

The importance of diversity

More diverse teams are consistently shown to perform better. Firms with female bosses have 10 times the profit margin of those without and more ethnically and racially diverse companies are 33% more likely to see higher than average profits.

We’re lucky to live in a diverse society and any workplace should reflect this. A diverse team made up of people from a variety of different backgrounds, genders, ages and experiences will be able to share alternative perspectives – after all, what’s a brainstorm session if it’s just an echo chamber of people with the same world view?

A company and its offering will quickly become stale if all team members share the same perspectives, so to foster creativity and innovation, diversity is key.

In addition, a company is more likely to tap a full range of potential markets and customers if its leadership and workforce are drawn from the widest possible pool of talent. After the pandemic, market competition is going to be especially fierce, and it makes good business sense to extend your product appeal to the widest range of possible customers.

Diversity comes in many forms as well. Not only will a more ethnically and racially diverse workforce lead to a greater spectrum of ideas, but so will one with an equal representation of gender, sexual orientations, and neurodiverse team members.

Values are your most valuable asset

An inclusive culture will ensure that all team members feel listened to and not held back in achieving their career goals.

Fostering a positive company culture needs to start with and be represented in its values. Positive values empower a company that successfully makes its employees feel safe, appreciated, and able to flourish and realise their full potential.

Identifying with the company’s values will also help the team understand what the company stands for, providing a compass and framework for their work.

Enshrining the importance of tolerance in the company’s codes of practice will encourage people from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures to feel comfortable at work. A company should also endorse the importance of self-expression.

Staff shouldn’t be forced to groupthink and no one should feel compelled to be meek and retiring about sharing a differing perspective.

How businesses can ensure diversity through to leadership

The most powerful statement of a company’s embrace of diversity is to have a truly diverse leadership team. This will signal the sincerity of a company’s values, inspire its employees and encourage diverse recruitment.

Equally important is the promotion of diversity awareness and appreciation in the workforce as a whole. Proper training will help to ensure that the message from the top is not diluted on the shop floor.

External consultants can also be brought in to help the process of understanding and show business leaders and staff how to be inclusive in their day-to-day interactions with each other. But you can’t simply buy a good corporate culture - consultants alone will not achieve genuine corporate diversity without hands on leadership.

The shock of the pandemic has forced most businesses to examine themselves closely. Root and branch reviews provide a unique opportunity to embed and foster new, more vibrant corporate cultures, with diversity at their core.

It’s important to recognise that diversity and inclusivity is not a tick box exercise. Of course, it’s the responsibility of everyone in the workforce to support a culture that encourages everyone irrespective of who they are, but attitudes of the team will often mirror leadership and action needs to start at the top.

Emma Yearwood is HR director at Sodexo Engage

Further reading:

Pushing for progress: the workplace's role in political and social movements

Businesses leaders count diversity as top priority to improve productivity

Is HR a hypocrite when it comes to D&I?