a more equitable workforce?

The route to a more equitable workforce

The case for diversity is well established but to create truly inclusive and equitable workplaces, organisations must not only eliminate biases but also implement structural changes.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion – three words that have become something of a mantra at board level in recent years. And there are some very good reasons why business leaders should be going the extra mile to ensure they are building companies that provide an equitable, inclusive, and diverse environment where all employees, regardless of age, gender, faith, race, sexuality, and physical capability can thrive. 

In 2022 the DEI agenda is set to be hard-wired into corporate decision making in the years ahead. Rather than being an exercise in box-ticking, DEI measures are becoming essential components in the creation and maintenance of culture and purpose. 

The business case is now well-rehearsed, particularly around diversity. For instance, a succession of studies have set out to demonstrate that companies with diverse leadership turn in better financial performances than their more homogeneous rivals. It has also been suggested that diverse and inclusive companies generate, on average 19 percent more revenue. Not everyone agrees, but there is sound logic to the argument. Diverse teams are less likely to fall victim to groupthink and individuals from different backgrounds will bring their own insights into customer groups and how to address them.

Equally important in a labour market in which top candidates can almost pick and choose the companies they work for – members of the Generation Z and millennial cohorts will be looking at how prospective employers stack up, not only in terms of diversity but also inclusion and equity.

Beyond Diversity  

So, here’s the challenge. Many employers have adopted recruitment techniques designed to counter unconscious (or indeed conscious) bias and create more diverse workplaces, but that’s only part of the battle. Diversity doesn’t mean equity. You can hire across a broad spectrum of people and yet not be inclusive or equitable – for instance, if some members of staff feel uncomfortable within teams or if there are obvious glass ceilings.

The opportunity is clear. If you can eliminate the biases that mitigate against diversity and inclusion, you can create an organisation that is not only more equitable but also better equipped to cope with changing markets while attracting the very best talent. 

In practice, the companies’ philosophies go beyond their own places of work. Through marketing and advertising, companies are seeking to foster the same sense of inclusion on the part of customers and stakeholders. But the starting point is acting within their own offices, factories, and warehouses with the aim of making the workforce “fundamentally reflective” of the society they serve. 

Achieving this requires more than a commitment to tackling bias. All organisations – and particularly those that are well established tend to have baked in cultures that have not necessarily moved forward as society has changed. These cultures can be across the board, but they can also be present in subtly different forms in divisions within a group or teams. Typically, there will also be structures in place – not least in terms of promotional or career development opportunities – that are in some way aligned to the culture.

This means that to create an equitable workplace, organisations must look at their culture and structures and, if necessary, take action to build that all-important sense of inclusion and opportunity.

One way to achieve this is to set very clear targets and goals, that are not just here-today-and-gone tomorrow but part of an overarching corporate ethos. Unilever, the company has set itself targets to ensure fair representation at all levels of the company. That last part is vital as it sets a marker for career development. The policy includes a pledge to recruit and develop people with disabilities with a target of 5 per cent in the workforce by 2025. Crucially, the initiative has complete buy-in from senior leaders, backed up by a Global Diversity Board.

Societies change and as they do so organisations must as well. Diversity, equity, and inclusion makes business sense, but it is about more than a measure to boost the bottom line. Increasingly, the best people are drawn to diverse inclusive organisations and the same is true of customers. Above all, though, businesses should adopt IDE policies because it is the right thing to do.