We need all great minds, not just the ones that think alike

23 February 2017 -


CMI’s Delivering Diversity research chair says it’s time to scrap outdated selection and recruitment practices

Pavita Cooper

When it comes to workplace diversity, we’ve made significant progress over the past 10 years. Managers have heard and understood the business case. That argument has been won.

Now it’s about making sure our workplaces reflect the society in which we operate in terms of issues such as race, disability, social mobility and sexual orientation. Arguably, we have made the most progress with gender diversity.

Women make up a large proportion of the workforce, so it was an obvious place to start. And many believe this focus has a halo effect, encouraging a more inclusive attitude to hiring generally. But there are still obstacles to tackle, particularly in terms of career progression.

If you look at the gender split at the entry level, you pretty much have parity. But track men and women’s career trajectories after seven years, and the numbers start to change.

Workplaces are losing women, and not just to childcare. Women leave organisations in search of a different workplace culture – perhaps one with more flexibility – or to set up on their own.

At the 30% Club, which campaigns for greater female representation on boards, we’re doing research to explore the role of line managers in helping men and women to progress.

The research process itself has been revealing. The participants, both men and women, have seen how easy it is to make assumptions about someone’s career, their attitudes and their ambitions.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to promoting inclusiveness. It is different for every organisation, at every level. Some businesses are looking at processes, the fairness of performance measures and agile working.

Equalising parental leave is a good example of where a difference is being made – Accenture, PwC, KPMG and Facebook are just a handful of businesses that have rolled this out for both men and women.

Sometimes, the sticking points are cultural.

The aim is to create a discrimination-free culture where individuals feel they can be themselves. But, often, people can subconsciously put barriers in the way – we are all susceptible to bias, and it can worsen in industries under financial or competitive pressure, or where working 24/7 is common.

Still, even here, it is possible to find solutions that ensure great employees are promoted. I also believe the tone is set from the top. If leaders encourage presenteeism and an expectation that you must work all hours, people will silently opt out.

We need to learn how to work differently.

There are some outdated working practices that we are being forced to address, thanks to mobile technology and the expectations of millennials. Organisations that don’t adapt will struggle to attract the next generation of talented people.

We also need to find ways to talk about more sensitive issues to do with inclusion, such as race. People are afraid of saying the wrong thing, so they say nothing and withdraw from the subject.

Like it or not, racial discrimination is becoming a focal point. Perhaps the Parker review, which is calling for at least one “leader of colour” on FTSE 100 boards by 2021, will, like the Davies report, spur executives to take action.

Managers need to look at their workplace with fresh eyes. What is the make-up of your workforce? Does it reflect the place you live and the customers you serve? Often it does not.

Look at what level the minority numbers drop off. Do you attract a diverse range of people?

Be engaged and actively seek out people from an under-represented group, rather than just assuming the candidates you get from HR are your only options.

If you’re a manager and you aspire to a leadership position, one of the ways you will be measured is the degree to which you attract the best talent. So, if you’re not actively looking to surround yourself with the best people, you’re not going to stand out.

We want to hear from any managers working in a FTSE100 company, in any role and from any ethnic background, about their experiences and their employer’s approach to inclusive leadership. Visit www.managers.org.uk/deliveringdiversity to find out more and to get in touch

Pavita Cooper is the founder of executive search and talent advisory firm More Difference, and is a member of the 30% Club’s steering committee. CMI is currently leading research into BAME issues in the FTSE 100, due for publication in summer 2017. To contribute, contact research@managers.org.uk

Powered by Professional Manager