Five steps you can take to improve your company’s diversity: views from Google, Lloyds, Sainsbury’s and Virgin Money

02 August 2017 -

Google KeyboardSeveral of the UK’s biggest employers are providing an ideal example to SME bosses on innovative ways to boost the representation of black and minority ethnicities at all levels of their organisation

Jermaine Haughton

In addition to highlighting the difficulties many companies are facing in engineering greater diversity amongst their ranks, the Delivering Diversity report from CMI and the British Academy of Management also highlighted the success of Google, Lloyds Banking Group, Sainsbury’s and Virgin Money in pioneering new and differing ways of investing in the skills and prospects of their BAME talent.

Insights reveals five key tips managers can integrate into their ethnic diversity strategy.

Track Your BAME Data

Just as a growing business would collect data and set targets based on their metrics such as sales revenue, customer retention and operating productivity, employers can also do so for developing strategies for improving ethnic diversity in their business.

From headcount to surveys, tracking BAME data at your workplace can provide an insight into whether you’re tapping into the full range of talent that is available to your organisation, and can form the foundation for future action plans and timelines.

Data is at the heart of Virgin Money’s BAME diversity measures, for example. The company has tracked recruitment data, included diversity topics to its yearly employee engagement surveys and has asked employees to complete an “About me” survey to help complete the employee data profile in the core HR system.

Virgin Money’s People Director, Matt Elliott, and Head of HR Business Partners, Dan Perrett, say that this information helps managers understand how minority groups feel about managers and the opportunities they have for access to leadership pipelines.

The data is also analysed with respect to its geography, allowing for diversity trends to be examined on a local level and diversity targets to be set to reflect the local population.

Similarly, financial firm Lloyds Banking Group’s years of ethnicity data-tracking led to their new and improved approach to boost BAME management, after the company found that the representation of BAME colleagues at a senior management level had plateaued in 2015.

The insight led to a focus group project that explored the challenging experience of BAME colleagues in the corporation, and has resulted in Lloyds investing in ensuring that BAME role models are present in each department, and is celebrated in its “role-model list”.

Identify and train BAME role models

Showcasing the next generation of ambitious BAME career starters of their possibilities, the presence of highly-visible, respected and accessible role models in the workplace has been a crucial method for major employers aiming to attract and retain their superstar talent and future BAME leaders.

Recognising that a lack of senior BAME role models can have a negative impact on progression of BAME colleagues, Sainsbury’s recently launched career mapping tools which depict diverse role models. These role model stories are shared in a variety of ways, through careers events, booklets, the company intranet and communication tool Yammer.

Hannah Munro, Sainsbury’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager shared a story of how role models in a colleague’s ‘line-of-sight’ provide a powerful illustration of opportunity for BAME colleagues within the company.

She recalled: “On an Area Manager’s first day, she met with her team… they talked and she really listened. Following the meeting, she received an email from a member of the team. It said: ‘I just wanted to thank you for today. Until this point I never believed I could progress beyond convenience store manager.’ I went home and told my husband that my new manager was not only a woman, but she was black! Now I am determined to follow in your footsteps.”

As part of launching the employee-led Affinity Group, focused on developing action plans to build diversity, Virgin Money has prioritised the task of identifying and training BAME role models in the company.

Virgin Money’s People Director, Matt Elliott, explained: “Through the Affinity Group we effectively go to all our BAME people in our organisation [and ask] ‘so how do we put you in a place where you can be a role model for the company?… It doesn’t matter what your seniority is, we want you to be someone who can talk confidently about this company to [BAME] people… in return we will equip you to be able to do that.’”

Embrace Mentoring Programmes

As champion members of the enterprise-led charity Business in the Community, Sainsbury’s participates in cross-organisational mentoring opportunities supporting the career progression of its BAME, female and other underrepresented demographics in its workforce.  

“Mentoring works both ways,” Munro explained. “It will be really beneficial: through circles [colleagues] will be able to build their networks and raise any development challenges. But equally, it will provide our most senior leaders with some valuable insight, potentially on some of the challenges that BAME colleagues are more likely to face across the organisation.

“This will ultimately help them to be more inclusive leaders.”

Tech giants Google recently launched Activate within Europe, a circular mentoring programme for BAME colleagues, based around the premise that there is a need to facilitate an individual’s circle of influence in order to drive their career.

Senior colleagues mentor a group of around six to seven BAME colleagues, while there is also peer-to-peer mentoring within that circle. Additionally, participants are offered dedicated courses and the course facilitators, as they get to know these colleagues, become trusted advisors.

Furthermore, Google chiefs have created a further ‘layer’ within the mentoring circle between the senior mentor and junior participants after finding that the best mentors are typically within 18 months of a person’s career trajectory. This ‘middle-level’ mentor provides support to junior participants, in addition to developing a one-to-one mentoring relationship with the senior mentor.

Involve ALL employees

Great managers get the most of inclusion initiatives by making sure no one feels out, and that BAME and non-BAME individuals are able to participate and express themselves in a open and tolerant environment.

To launch its inclusion brand ‘Embrace the Difference’, Sainsbury’s teams were given visible symbols - badges and stickers - to wear showing their support for inclusion, while case studies, articles and videos also inspire and engage colleagues.

Moreover, the business ran scenario-based exercises in stores and via office-based meetings, to help equip colleagues to embrace difference.  

During Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims, Sainsbury’s shared case studies with colleagues, explaining why people fast during this period and answering any questions.

“We want to end the awkwardness and anxiety that colleagues sometimes experience when discussing diversity, encouraging them not to make assumptions but instead to be curious and really get to know each other. In the last 12 months we’ve seen a significant increase in focus, momentum and attention and more conversations happening right across our organisation.”

Story-telling is also a fun method used by Virgin Money, whereby individuals are encouraged to write a memo about a personal experience to be posted on the company intranet (for example, what it is like to be a Muslim woman in the company). The stories, and its authors, have attracted substantial attention (up to 2,000 readers) and support from colleagues, leading to other staff members sharing their experiences.

Widen your recruitment criteria and talent pool

Many employers now recognise that they need to make a concerted effort to ensure they are recruiting diversity candidates, as typically they are underrepresented in the standard recruiting process. Rather than being seen as a burden however, great managers and recruiters are using the opportunity to branch out to a diverse workforce, employers have access to a greater pool of candidates thereby improving the odds of hiring the best person.

At Lloyds Banking Group, for example, the company has prioritised the standardisation of recruitment processes in assessment centres, as well as  unconscious bias training for hiring managers across the company to boost ethnic diversity hiring.

The bank has even gone as far as to review the language used in adverts and job descriptions, opting to depict the stories and images that reflect diversity in these dimensions. “The approach that we would have taken three or four years ago of going very, very corporate, only really sharing positive messages, using lots of stats and lots of facts, is nowhere near as good as telling stories that people can relate to, that people can identify themselves in.”

By comparison, Google has taken a slightly different approach by assessing the challenges and cultural differences that may deter BAME candidates from applying for one of its jobs.

Google’s recruiters, for example, found that the British-Black community, in particular, are more likely to be first generation undergraduates and also more likely to be working while doing their degree, so a longer university trajectory is possible.

Therefore, at the interview stage, Google managers have found it useful to encourage people to talk about more than their academic experience, such as asking what applicants learnt from juggling university and working.

Additionally, Chuck Stephens, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Google in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, stresses the importance of engaging with and coaching minority ethnic communities about what they look for in a CV, such as application developer experience.

Read the full Delivering Diversity report, here

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