Most firms are past the ‘why’ on diversity. However, there is a serious lack of imagination and experimentation in how we deliver it. Despite all the talk we continue to see the same homogenous groups at work, whether that be in terms of gender, age, personality type, social background or race.
I’ve seen this firsthand. My parents were immigrants from East Africa, working many jobs to support us. I was bright but the secondary school didn’t know what to do with me. They asked me to sit at the back of the class and not ask too many questions. It had never prepared anyone for Oxbridge so couldn’t help me get in. I’m certain I wouldn’t be in this role if it hadn’t been for a youth development charity (who I still support today) that taught me the necessary life skills and introduced me to different kinds of people. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Cognitive diversity is critical to our success as human beings and as businesses. Organisations are just a collection of individuals. If you are trying to come up with better answers to difficult problems and better relate to your clients you must improve diversity.
I knew we needed to double Redington’s headcount over the next few years, but all the candidates looked, sounded and thought the same way. So we focus a lot on cognitive diversity. We knew we had a pipeline problem but we didn’t know the perfect way to solve it. Working with my team leaders we kicked off a series of experiments, which my new head of people is extending even further.
One of the most successful interventions has been our returnship programme. We teamed up with The Return Hub, which connects firms with people who have been on a career break. We were blown away by the talent of the women we interviewed and couldn’t believe they were struggling to find jobs because of the gap on their CVs. We selected five women who had spent time out of the workplace for a variety of reasons, and offered them a 10-week placement.
What surprised us was how quickly we felt the benefit of these women’s input. They had achieved much before their breaks, and their skills had continued to develop while they were pursuing other priorities. We saw firsthand how looking further afield for talent can pay dividends. We are thrilled to have been able to offer all of the women permanent roles following the completion of the programme, and it was a testament to its success that all but one of them accepted.
Our returners offered much more than gender diversity. Having people come back to work after a period out brings a different, rounded and mature perspective to a young business like ours. All our returners continue to have a tremendous impact on our firm across many dimensions.
The message is clear. A well-run, properly organised, broadly bought-into and flexible returners programme can bring benefits to the whole workplace. Done properly it’s an opportunity to challenge company norms and learn from the vast reserves of untapped talent that exist in places you don’t normally look.
This year we will build on those lessons and go a step further. We will still reach out to female returners, as well as retirees and military interns. I’d encourage anyone who wants to increase diversity to stop talking, find a great recruitment partner and boldly take the first step. You won’t regret it.
Mitesh Sheth is CEO at Redington