Updated: Feb 18
Does a diverse leadership really matter? Conversations about diversity and inclusion have intensified over the past few years yet new data suggests that the top UK firms are failing at diversity and inclusion.
Businesses are increasingly speaking of issues concerning diversity and inclusion, yet actions to put real actions in place around making leadership inclusive are lacking.
Interestingly, the Parker Review in 2017, set a four year target for firms FTSE 100 firms to appoint at least one board level director from a BAME background, by 2021,
The data from Parker Review, suggested that Boards were somewhat apprehensive about talking about race. Be that as it may, is it reason enough to not put into place strategic plans to increase the levels of diversity?
In many companies, it fails to exist at all. All this begs the question.... Why are so many companies failing at diversity and inclusion?
Authenticity and Willingness to Engage
The relevance of diversity and inclusion and, in particular, authenticity actions around conversations that develop real inclusion, is inadequate amongst leadership.
There is a lack of authenticity, evidenced by the reports highlighted above. Even without reporting, it is clear that by merely looking at the leadership across the FTSE 100, that there is an obvious absence of visible minority ethnic groups and women.
Talking about race, gender and disability supports wider engagement with diverse communities and employees. It helps to promote and develop the actions necessary to build inclusive responses. It supports a better understanding of the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.
And... It doesn't stop there!
There exists a wide spectrum of difference that comes under the banner of diversity, which includes a wide range of social, lifestyle and cultural distinctions that make up employees.
Understanding, and recognising this, is important for addressing any imbalances, not only across the employee base, but also in relation to your customers.
An important question for leaders to ask, is whether the current leadership is inclusive and promoting diversity in a real, and engaging way.
The perpetual state of homogeneity tells us that perhaps initiatives purporting to advance inclusion, are very often spurious acts, designed to maintain the status quo.
Why is an inclusive leadership important?
Whilst many leaders 'talk up' the virtues of inclusion, they themselves, fail to see the value of inclusive leadership.
They fail to utilise the processes and frameworks necessary, to add significant value to developing equitable processes and workplaces.
Having a diverse leadership can promote your business in the following ways:
1 Develops relationships with a wider range of people
2 Promotes your business services better across communities
3 Helps to develop products and services to suit different needs
4 Expands and develops your reach on social media
5 Helps to attract the best in class talent
A business that promotes diversity and inclusion, and has a healthy mix of diversity at leadership levels, is far more likely to be able to engage better with employees, customers and other stakeholders.
It helps to better connect with a wider range of people, increases creativity and promotes innovation and flexibility.
An inclusive leadership, is better able to understand diverse needs, and as such, is better able to engage with diverse groups of people, in a natural, unforced way.
This helps to connect with, and promote to, a wider audience.
Creating inclusive content for social media, and marketing to diverse groups, helps a business to connect with people across a wide range of backgrounds.
This improves the diversity of your audience, leading to more hits on your website and increased interest in the company brand, its products and its services.
It also helps to promote an inclusive brand image that helps to attract diverse talent.
Inclusive content and marketing campaigns, are by no means a quick fix 'get out' opportunity. They are, however, activities that help to back up authenticity and connect with a wider audience.
Developing inclusive content, without actually being inclusive, tends to backfire, often in a very public way.
Leadership Recruitment and Retention
In order to attract candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds, it is imperative that a business values inclusion. No one wants to be the only one!
There is an obvious reticence amongst some leaders in the FTSE 100 to support diversity and inclusion within leadership. This serves only to promote the exclusion of others within the workplace.
This hesitation towards inclusion, has compounded the failures of these organisations. It represents a failure to take diversity and inclusion seriously enough, to implement organisational process and cultural change.
We only have to look at the numbers of BAME (Black and Ethnic Minority Ethnic) and women leaders, to make an assessment that not enough, if anything, is being done.
Non inclusive recruitment only maintains and further embeds the status quo.
It is increasingly necessary to ensure that the workplace environment is both enabling and inclusive.
Boards must implement strategies to promote authenticity around inclusion, if they are to attract and retain best in class talent of a diverse nature.
Diversity and inclusion starts at the very top. In boards are not mindful of it, and do not promote it as a meaningful business objective, then there is little hope of success.
Businesses must make sure that a workplace environment is created that will be welcoming to employees and potential recruits from different cultures and social backgrounds.
If the organisation does not speak to inclusion, and is not welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds, then it is highly unlikely that it would attract diverse candidates, in any case.
Belonging is Important
It is important for all employees to feel a sense of affinity within the workplace. To attract the best in class leadership candidates, it is important to develop cultural understanding that will help engage new leaders effectively.
This helps new leaders to settle into their working roles more effectively, and enables them to get on with the business of producing the results for which they have been hired.
No-one person within the company should feel as though they are excluded.
Potential leadership candidates are more likely to be attracted to a business, if they can see that there is a culture of acceptance and belonging.
This is important across all strands of diversity. A diverse leadership is far better able to promote an inclusive outlook for the company, if they are inclusive themselves.
The excuse around not hiring 'due to cultural fit' must be disbanded. This long used criteria for not hiring, is used disproportionately with Black and Minority Ethnic and women candidates.
The issue is that if you cannot hire someone because the are not the right 'fit' for your organisation, then quite possibly, there is something wrong with your company culture!
The 'culture fit' excuse for not hiring actually takes away from the 'value add' that diversity and inclusion brings to leadership.
It serves only to politely excuse a best in class candidate in favour of another, who will likely fit the current leadership, homogeneous characteristics. It maintains the status quo, and further marginalises those would be candidates from the organisation.
Diversity of thought is a premium leadership quality within forward thinking organisations.
If you are hiring for cultural fit, instead of cultural add, you are hiring someone to fit into a pre-prescribed culture. You are saying that your culture is that is rigid and reluctant to change.
Shall I spell it out loud?.... you are not receptive to inclusion!
The fact is, that hiring and involving people who may be able to look at problems differently or have a different perspective on how you engage with stakeholders, is a huge value add to a business brand.
It also supports initiatives to develop organisational culture development.
We all experience the world in different ways, which adds to progressive thought leadership and innovation of ideas. Hiring for 'fit' is synonymous with impeded growth and innovation.
Diversity and inclusion do not 'look the same', nor should it maintain the status quo.
Rather they should add value, which is seen through difference that enhances decision making processes and drives innovation.
Enabling diversity and inclusion, at the forefront of recruitment processes will impact on the quality of decision making,
It makes your business more attractive to the widest possible range of employees, customers and other stakeholders.
The challenge is for Boardroom to now put authentic actions at the heart of business operations and frameworks.
No more, one and done. No more excuses. Let's do it.... once and for all.
Learn More: How to use organisational culture resets to improve inclusion
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About the author
Carmen Morris is a diversity consultant and Managing Director of Kenroi Consulting, a bespoke diversity consultancy providing tailor made solutions for businesses across the UK.
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