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Financial incentives may be key to increasing diversity

A recent report published in June by Business in the Community’s race equality campaign, Race for Opportunity, concludes that “no progress is being made on tackling race inequality in management”.

The research revealed that the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in top management positions has fallen by more than 21,000 in five years. And, while the share of BAME people in top jobs increased by 0.5% between 2007 and 2012, in real terms numbers fell from 95,023 to 73,378. It also found that only one in 16 top management positions and one in 13 management roles is held by BAME people, although one in 10 people in employment are BAME.

I have been advising FTSE 100 companies on diversity for over 10 years and I have to agree that overall there has been little progress. Despite the number of diversity officers, programmes and reports, it appears that companies are continuing to pay lip service to the cause.  

I believe there needs to be a more radical and innovative approach to increasing diversity at senior level. We need to find a more inventive and hard-hitting vehicle for change if we want to encourage chief executives to engage. As coarse as it may seem, remuneration brings change. If a chief executive knows that 10% of their bonus is based on increasing diversity, we will witness a sea change. I am a firm believer that financial compensation for the inclusion of a diversity programme will have a tremendous impact.

It is more than simply ‘doing the right thing’. There are plenty of statistics that show that businesses perform better when there is a healthier gender balance, and a mix of ages, races and cultures. In today’s competitive marketplace, organisations should look to reflect their client base. Diversity should not be a specialist or controversial area. It is simply about widening the talent pool, opening up more doors and ultimately doing better business. 

In order to make progress, organisations have to acknowledge and work to overcome the unconscious bias that exists in relation to how they recruit. In all businesses people tend to hire people like them. Sometimes we do it because it is the low risk option, but more often than not, we do it because that's the way it's always been done and we don’t want to step outside our comfort zone. As a result, there are whole sections of society who become naturally excluded, such as young people who lack work experience, over 50s, people with disabilities, ex-offenders, and those of different ethnic backgrounds.

Changing the way you recruit at the bottom of the ladder is an inexpensive way to widen the net. For example, organisations should look at ways to partner up with education establishments and engage young people early. 

I have found that often there is a lack of diverse candidates simply because the search terms are very narrow. However, if an organisation is bold enough to change the criteria and look outside the usual talent pool, a wide range of suitable individuals will inevitably appear. 

So how can organisations break down the barriers and change the cycle?  

  • Start with small projects where change can be measured easily and risk managed 
  • Enlarge the talent pool, widen the net and search terms for some roles and include people of different backgrounds and experience
  • Accept that candidates might not tick all of your boxes
  • To minimise risk start with strategic rather than revenue-generating roles  
  • Consider rewarding those individuals or teams that take a risk
  • If a commitment to diversity is deemed a key business objectives, think about how it can sit alongside other objectives

Michael Barrington Hibbert is a managing partner at management recruitment firm Barrington Hibbert Associates