Defining the journey towards diversity

Achieving a high standard of diversity in the workplace has become increasingly important – especially given the spotlight that has been shone on this aspect of business life by the recent global pandemic and the growing awareness of racial inequality around the world. For larger businesses there are also greater reporting requirements in this area from regulators and government.

By Katie Nightingale, Associate Director, People Consulting at Grant Thornton UK LLP

Diverse workforces are not just a nice to have for businesses, they are a moral and commercial imperative. The fact stands that inclusive and diverse organisations are likely to enjoy greater business performance, improved talent attraction and retention as well as a positive internal and external reputation.

From our own experience as an employer and from our work with clients across all sectors, we find there are some key questions that organisations ask themselves when considering inclusion & diversity (I&D). These include:

  • What’s our starting point? How inclusive and diverse an organisation are we now?
  • Where do we want to get to? What are our drivers for change and what are our inclusion and diversity ambitions?
  • How will we get there? What actions will best help us to achieve these ambitions?
  • How can we measure the impact? Is what we are doing making a difference?

There are many challenges common to organisations, regardless of size and sector, when trying to move toward more inclusive practices that will increase diversity and equity for their people. These include:

  • Gaining leadership buy-in
  • Understanding the impact of multiple initiatives
  • Benchmarking and measuring impact
  • Data protection
  • Data measurement and consistency
  • Achieving realistic targets
  • Going beyond “ticking the box”

Making informed decisions

To guide an organisation’s I&D journey, it’s important to put in place mechanisms for capturing and analysing information that can inform inclusive decision-making.

This should be combined with a comprehensive effort to create a culture where individuals feel comfortable and able to disclose diversity identifiers that will further enhance the overall understanding of the workforce and where time and resources should be focused.

Often organisations take a scatter gun approach to inclusion interventions which can be costly, time-consuming and ineffective. However, by properly recognising the organisation’s current inclusion landscape and aligning this with its ambitions, it is possible to design bespoke interventions that will drive positive change.

Getting the right data is vital to understanding a workplace’s culture and levels of inclusivity. Key aspects of the business that need to be assessed range from how talent is attracted and developed through to how people feel about the organisation both internally and externally as well as whether the existing I&D strategy is fit for purpose  

There are often plenty of metrics and data points that can be used in this process, such as diversity information that shows the makeup of the organisation as well as how policies, processes and practices are embedded into the firm’s structure. The lived experience of the organisation’s people can also provide useful data to inform a better I&D approach.

Once this data has been gathered, it can be used to refine a company’s awareness of how its people feel and to get a sense of where, if any, problems lie, as well as identify the priority actions that need to be implemented to produce sustainable change.

It’s important to consider that while a business may have a great diversity and inclusion policy, if it is not communicated and implemented consistently then the way the employees experience it in action will be negatively impacted. It’s not enough to just have a strategy or policy in place, it has to be embedded and seen in everyday actions and behaviours throughout the organisation, particularly those in leadership and influential positions.

Leading from the top

Change starts from the top through committed actions and more importantly through role-modelling behaviours that support an inclusive culture.

We know that leadership teams across many organisations in the UK are still not representative of how diverse we are as a nation. Therefore, it’s essential to spend time understanding the perceptions of the leadership team along with their ambitions for inclusion ahead of engaging in further I&D activities.

By breaking down barriers and creating challenges in a supportive environment, leadership teams along with key partners and stakeholders can create a change roadmap that they and the organisation can get behind. This all starts with knowing where the organisation is and building trust so as to engage people in work that will drive inclusion through the business.

Creating a truly inclusive culture

At Grant Thornton, we’ve used the approach outlined in this blog to develop the Inclusion Maturity Model, which has been purposely designed to support organisations on their inclusion journey. It does this by utilising detailed insights in order to answer the key I&D questions a business faces and mitigate their challenges in an objective, robust and data-driven way. Tools such as this are a valuable way to help create more inclusive and diverse working environments. Moving the dial on inclusion is a marathon not a sprint and every positive action a business takes can move them closer to an inclusive culture, which will ultimately lead to a more diverse workforce, bringing with it greater engagement and prosperity.

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