Organisations that embrace diversity and inclusion can reap many benefits – a competitive edge, greater innovation, market share growth, and an improved bottom line are just a few.
Equal representation and diversity in all of its forms and harnessing the talents, skills and thinking of everyone equally is the cornerstone of creating successful and sustainable businesses.
D&I is a strong part of what it is to be a business operating as a force for good. The quality of decision-making improves when you have diversity of thought. No more groupthink. And the management of risk is more thoughtful – supporting the delivery of sustainable outcomes for everyone.
The business case for inclusivity is as strong as the moral responsibility – it is the right thing to do for everyone. Breaking down barriers and supporting men and women of all races, beliefs, sexual orientations, ages and capabilities helps to disrupt us out of conventional ways of doing things. It is proven to deliver superior business performance, enhance productivity and increase prosperity. It is a classic win-win.
Strong and committed leadership has seen the gender agenda gather real momentum. Yet progress isn't evenly paced. For example, the progression of ethnic minorities in business lacks momentum. As the Parker Review noted, the boardrooms of Britain’s leading public companies do not reflect the ethnic diversity of either the UK or the stakeholders that they seek to engage and represent.
To improve ethnic diversity specifically and progress D&I more generally HR departments have a crucial role to play in three key areas – strengthening the connection between wider society and business, inspiring greater collaboration and promoting transparency.
Connecting the D&I agenda
I believe putting D&I at the core of the people strategy will enable delivery of a level playing field for all. At Virgin Money we aim to provide an environment that nurtures a high-performing, diverse and committed workforce, enabling all colleagues to reach their full potential. This is aligned with our ambition to make ‘everyone better off’ – and EBO (as we call it) is in our DNA. Our EBO culture supports decision-making and means we seek mutually beneficial outcomes for everyone – customers, colleagues, communities, our corporate partners and the company owners. Connecting our D&I efforts to our company ambition, and our wider role in society, is paying dividends.
We recognise the need to join forces with other like-minded organisations for material progress to be made. We are collaborating with the Black British Business Awards to run a cross-industry 'Accelerator' programme designed to support BAME colleagues into senior roles. We are in the third year of our school leaver support programme, which we run in the North East with the amazing support of local businesses. And in July we will host, alongside Business in the Community, a mental health wellbeing conference in Newcastle to help build business capability.
What gets measured gets done and in my view what gets reported drives change. In February we voluntarily disclosed our gender pay gap for 2016. It was just the right thing to do. Strategically we believe transparency will play a strong part in remedying the differential and we have just published our pay gap for 2017. We still have work to do but progress has been made to redress the gender imbalance and we are heading in the right direction; narrowing the gap and building trust through visibility at the same time.
We want people to feel that they are able to bring their true selves to work. The richness that diversity can bring is good for our colleagues, creativity and team work, which flows through to the bottom line and is ultimately good for society.
Serving a diverse society requires us all to examine whether our organisations reflect that diversity. We need to ask ourselves whether we engage people of all backgrounds equally and enable everyone to reach their full potential. As HR professionals we have a unique opportunity to take the lead here and ensure the D&I agenda is relevant, promote transparency, and engage in further collaborative efforts to drive positive change.
Matt Elliott is people director at Virgin Money