25 May 2017


Below we share some insights into the importance of a diverse and inclusive workforce: 


While conversations around diversity tend to centre on things that we can easily compartmentalise, such as race, gender, sexual preference and disability, in essence it is about recognising and embracing individualism. We each have unique personality traits, including introversion and extroversion, liberalism and conservatism, and it is the mix of these characteristics that enriches team performance.


We all have natural biases towards people with certain traits, whether that means favouring those who share our own interests or background – affinity bias – or who confirm our existing perceptions and stereotypes – known as conformation bias. For example, research conducted by Jaluch revealed that 67 per cent of the British public feel uncomfortable talking to a disabled person and 80 per cent of employers admit to making decisions based on regional accents.


It’s important that we are able to recognise these hard-wired preferences in ourselves, especially at work where they could put people at a disadvantage. Many FTSE 100 firms have rolled out unconscious bias training in an attempt to raise awareness among their employees of their hidden biases. This training will include ways to avoid giving preference to those who seem like us in terms of age, gender, race or academia, and look at developing a core value system based on fair treatment and respect.


According to Stephen Frost, founder of Frost Included, a consultancy dedicated to helping people understand diversity and inclusion, when things are competitive value comes from the margin or difference – in people just as in markets. “We need diversity now more than ever,” he says. “We need to enlarge the toolbox at an organisation’s disposal to help solve the ever-changing challenges it faces. Instead of hiring more brilliant, but similar, people we need to actively look for differences.”


Brainstorming with a team whose members are from a range of backgrounds and cultures is likely to be more productive because a heterogeneous group can draw on its different perspectives to come up with ideas and solve problems. The best ideas often come as a result of cross-pollination of ideas across an organisation’s diverse workforce.


Organisations who strive for greater global reach should not underestimate the value in recruiting from a diverse talent pool. Being able to draw on a wealth of skills and experiences, including foreign languages and an understanding of social and business etiquette in different cultures can prove a boon when trying to address the needs of customers globally.


Some industry sectors need to work especially hard to break down the barriers to a diverse workforce. Currently only five per cent of the construction workforce is made up of women, in part due to outdated perceptions of what jobs are available and the skills required. One Way launched an ongoing #GirlsAllowed campaign in 2016 aimed at increasing the number of female professionals in the industry. It sees clear benefits, including increasing innovation and creative thinking and enabling different ways of working. Primarily, though, it’s about tapping into an as-yet-untapped talent pool, crucial at a time when the industry faces crippling skills shortages.


A truly diverse workplace relies not only on fostering healthy attitudes internally, but also outside of the organisation. A report by AGR showed 28 per cent of employers see poor perceptions of their industries as a major challenge. Increasing diversity often means improving selection processes and tackling conscious or unconscious biases within the organisation. However it also requires you to attract candidates from diverse backgrounds, which may mean tackling negative or outdated views of your industry or brand. Doing everything you can internally isn’t always enough; you may need to take responsibility for and be proactive about changing external viewpoints.

“Why would future female graduates, for example, reading a reported gender pay gap choose to apply for your company?” asks Julie Chakraverty, founder of micro-mentoring app Rungway and senior independent director for Aberdeen Asset Management. “Businesses need to use data to highlight and communicate gaps and blind spots and provoke thought.”


While many organisations will focus on ensuring their recruitment processes are conducive to a diverse workforce, it’s important also to look at retention of existing staff. Are you losing talented people because they feel they are neither welcome nor their differences welcomed? Does your organisation have a culture of collaboration and sharing or is it overly hierarchical and restrictive? Are there clear communication pathways so that non-appropriate behaviours can be reported?


Having a multicultural team can have many benefits, in particular in terms of innovation and development, but keeping the group harmonious requires a skilled manager.

Friction can occur when different cultures clash and it’s important to encourage and help employees deal with this. One way to do this is to ask your team members to identify and log the assumptions they are making about one another and then work through these as a group, helping to quickly dispel the stereotypes and open up a discussion.