You’ve seen the evidence, you understand what can be gained – but acceptance of your diversity programmes is patchy, and progress is slow. That, however, may be about to change, thanks to a clutch of forward-thinking companies and some hard-nosed thinking
“Are you sure you want me?” KPMG partner Vincent Neate was taken aback when, three years ago, someone from the company’s LGBT network, Breathe, asked him to become a ‘straight ally’.
Neate is modest about his involvement – “it’s always nice to be wanted” – but not about its impact. He describes it as “one of the most profound things” he has done in his 25-year career.
“Unless you are a member of the LGBT community, have a disability, face childcare issues or come from an ethnic minority, you simply do not understand how diﬃcult it might be to operate in the modern commercial environment,” he says. “We think we’re at the back end of 30 years of liberalisation, regulatory reform and values slapped on the walls.
“But if you engage, listen and try to understand, you start to realise how far we have to go – and that this is really important.”
Neate works at a company that’s been leading on diversity and inclusion for more than a decade. His concern – and it’s shared by many people involved in diversity and inclusion – is that, away from the spotlight, many medium-sized and smaller organisations are “where we were 15 years ago”.
For all the talk of the ‘business case’ for workplace diversity, in reality progress is patchy.
Part of the problem has been ill-conceived campaigns to hire and incentivise more women, ethnic minorities and gay employees. Managers on the receiving end of these start to see diversity as just another initiative, breeding what The Fawcett Society describes as ‘barrier bosses’, who are more than twice as likely to be against equal opportunities at work than the general population.
Pooja Sachdev, co-author of the book Rewire, even goes so far as to say that “diversity is in crisis”.
But sentiment appears to be shifting again. In many organisations, the focus is moving towards mind-set over metrics.
Business leaders are going beyond the business case, and are focusing instead on the behaviours that make a workplace inclusive. The ultimate prize is better-balanced and more innovative organisations.
Forward-thinking companies are “looking at talent in a diﬀerent way”, says Sue O’Brien, the new chair of CMI’s Women in Management advisory committee. They tend to promote internal hiring opportunities, and do lots of internal development, “reaching down into the business”.
This latest shift may even be leading to a less purely proﬁt-centric approach to talent management, one whereby ethical aims are made more explicit.
In a recent interview with Fast Company, Danny Guillory, head of global diversity and inclusion at Autodesk, was open about the company’s ethical motivations, warning that, if you’re motivated purely by proﬁt, “you’re stuck”.
So how are the best organisations beating ‘pale, male and stale’ and moving beyond tick box diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives? They tend to share the following set of six common characteristics.
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