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Why Diversity and Inclusion isn’t just about Gender Equality

The conversation about inclusion in the workplace so often starts and finishes with gender equality...

As women make up just over half the population, and just under half the working population, it is natural that the discussion about equality should begin here. The recent requirement for organisations with more than 250 staff to report on the pay gap between men and women has spurred many organisations to first look at the actual data, and in many cases act on what has been, in some industries, a woeful lack of equality. Times are changing but many organisations think they have solved their inequality issues by bringing closer parity between the sexes. It’s a great first step, yet many other groups are still clearly discriminated against in the workplace.

I am often asked, ‘what is the difference between diversity and inclusion’? 

A good (although imperfect) analogy could be that ‘diversity is being asked to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance’. 

There is little point in creating a diverse talent attraction policy designed to reach all diverse groups such as the LGBTQ+ community, those from minority racial and ethnic backgrounds, older and younger people, disabled and neurodiverse people and others, without a sound strategy to ensure that those diverse individuals are made to feel welcome, inducted into the organisation properly and provided with the support they need to thrive. The challenge needs to be viewed holistically, with both a talent attraction policy and an inclusion policy that are closely aligned. This means ensuring fair opportunities for under-represented groups, and encouraging businesses take a thorough inventory of their organisation. We all need to challenge these imbalances as we find them, however this is not just about morals.

Commercial drivers for change

However, to enact real change in the workplace, there needs to be solid commercial drivers. And this is where the message seems to get a little lost, because there are indeed very sound economic reasons for creating an inclusive environment in the workplace. According to McKinsey & Co, in their 2015 report ‘Why Diversity Matters’, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, and 78% organisations in the UK have senior leadership teams that fail to reflect the demographic composition of the country’s labour force and population. The CIPD recently reported that disabled and neurodiverse employees rank higher than all other groups for innovation and commercial ambition. My fear is that now the imbalance in gender equality is starting to be addressed, organisations will not take the strides needed to address other inequalities.Although pay-gap reporting is in itself a very blunt instrument, perhaps requiring such reporting across all underrepresented groups will start the required change. The organisations that start to act now by embracing diversity will steal a march on their competitors.

The solution?

Is there a ‘quick’ fix? In my view, the process starts at the top of an organisation, when current leaders start to focus on the future of their business...

Spotting diverse talent as future leaders and giving them a ‘leg-up’ (or rather accelerated management development) may be seen by some as positive discrimination – I think that is an ugly term that could be better rephrased as ‘redressing the balance after years of inequality’. Companies should redesign their talent attraction policies so that it is focussed on ability, and that shortlists for vacancies are demographically reflective, or certainly more representative. This can be achieved by reducing unconscious bias; utilising ‘competency based’ interviewing processes, anonymising applications, and combining these with psychometric profiling to highlight desired behaviours, intelligence and personality, alongside the traditional focus on past experience, presentation and perceived skills.

- Adam Tobias