Culture change around diversity and inclusion remains ‘slow’

The diversity and inclusion agenda has not moved on enough, says Charlotte Sweeney

The diversity and inclusion agenda has not moved on enough and true culture change remains “slow” in many places, according to diversity and inclusion expert Charlotte Sweeney.

Sweeney, who runs diversity consultancy Charlotte Sweeney Associations and is former international head of diversity and inclusion at financial services firm Nomura International, was speaking at the Top Employers for Working Families awards. She was one of the judges for the awards, for which HR magazine is media partner.

“If I reflect on how this agenda has moved on since the late 90s when I started as a D&I manager at Barclays, it has moved on - but not enough,” Sweeney said.

“[Sometimes] I get frustrated that the change can get lost in management restructures, economic crises and governmental reshuffles.”

She cited research that she had carried out with former London Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf, which examined attitudes to diversity in the City and “ask[ed] leaders, if we are so committed to D&I, then why is change slow?”

The 2014 Power of Diversity research found that while 84% of City workers said their company was committed to diversity from the top, only 15% of mid-level managers felt their leaders’ actions were consistent with their words.

The research also found 87% of those surveyed said their company’s efforts on diversity and inclusion didn't impact on them personally, and that only 25% of leaders responsible for creating the right culture in their companies had measures relating to diversity and inclusion in their performance plans.

Sweeney called on businesses to tackle cultural change in this area. She said that while, for example, many companies had “responded to the legal requirements of Shared Parental Leave”, many are “still to tackle the cultural changes required”.

“Changing a culture can be a real challenge and we are only as good as our weakest line manager,” she said. “Without changing a culture the words on our perfectly written policies will not jump off the page and positively impact the lives of our employees and the productivity of our companies.”

She added that “flexibility and agility” needed to be put at the top of senior leaders’ agendas, as without it, “creating a diverse and inclusive company is going to be impossible”.

Sweeney is about to launch a project on creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces in the UK's regional cities, echoing her work in London with Woolf. The Creating Inclusive Cultures project is starting in Leeds in September 2015.