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Sarah Williams Gardener

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Create a diverse workforce for business success

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Equality and diversity must be seen as a business issue, despite the recession, because promoting a diverse workforce can bring many benefits to both employer and employee, says Sarah Williams Gardener.

The total benefits to the UK economy of reducing the gender segregation of jobs and increasing women’s employment has been estimated as anything up to a massive £23 billion. It could raise output in the UK by an equivalent 2% of gross domestic product. Creating workplaces which work for all is not about political correctness, it is about business success and creating more dynamic and successful organisations.

Having a diverse workforce where everyone has an equal chance at success means organisations are better able to benefit from a wealth of experience, perspectives, attitudes and approaches. Research has proved that mixed groups are significantly more effective than homogeneous ones in making effective decisions.

In essence, creating diverse and inclusive workplaces is about engaging with employees and ensuring that they know they matter as individuals. It is about guaranteeing that as an organisation you can tap into the highest calibre of talent, gain fresh perspectives and innovate. And in times of hardship, engaging and motivating your employees is key if you want to drive business and ultimately succeed.

Litigation risk

Failing to promote equality and diversity can lead to increased costs on several fronts. There is the obvious risk of litigation and its associated legal and reputational costs. Getting it wrong can also lead to a higher staff turnover.  There is much anecdotal evidence which proves that employers who develop workplace cultures which foster diversity and make people feel included reduce turnover.

It is encouraging to see that despite the difficult economic climate employers are seeing the creation of inclusive and diverse workplaces as a business imperative

According to recent research from Opportunity Now, 74% of organisations can make a clear link between their internal diversity initiatives and employee engagement, whilst 40% of employers can demonstrate improved customer satisfaction as a result of their diversity activities. This proves that there is still a very clear business imperative for equality and diversity and that employers are continuing to show commitment and dedication to creating workplaces where everyone can succeed.  

All organisations who are attempting to increase the diversity of their workforce should actively measure and monitor how this is actually making their organisations better – if you can crack this, then diversity initiatives become a part of business success rather than just a nice-to-do.

Employee metrics

There are many ways to measure and monitor impact.  For example  monitor changes in employee metrics; such as change in turnover, changes in absence, changes in maternity return rates, changes in recruitment and promotion rates for women or changes in employee perceptions (through staff surveys, exit interview etc). Where possible, cost the impact of these changes.  For example using the average cost of replacing an employee (100-150% of salary) allows you to quickly calculate the financial benefits to the business of a drop in turnover or increase in maternity return rate.

It is clear that diversity is still seen as a big issue in the boardroom; according to recent research, in 55% of organisations board level leaders are held directly accountable for delivering gender objectives and are measured on this via their performance review.  In Opportunity Now’s experience leaders hold the key to driving change and creating inclusive cultures. The statements, behaviours and actions of senior leaders can have an enormous impact on the culture of an organisation.  Both male and female line managers rank public statements from senior leaders, and their accompanying behaviour, as the most important support they can receive in developing good diversity practice.  Behaviour is particularly important and can send out very powerful messages; it’s about walking the talk as much as it is about talking the talk. As soon as board or equivalent level leaders start to champion diversity, things happen.

Workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives can be seen as a way of better responding to clients, customers and external stakeholders. It is clear that employers are also seeing this important link and considering the purse power of their women customers when making internal people decisions. 58% of employers actively consider gender issues as part of their customer management, whilst 48% of employers consult with their customers in the development of their gender strategy. Women make 80% of all consumer decisions, and currently make up around 46% of Britain’s 376,000 millionaires.  A workforce which is more reflective of the customer base makes very good business sense.

Here is our four-point plan for employers who want to make their workplaces more inclusive:

  • Measurement and monitoring of human capital data is absolutely the first starting point.  Employers need to map out their current situation before they can even begin to find the most appropriate route to success.  Employers should be looking to see where women are throughout the organisation, by grade and department. Employers should look to see if there are differences in the rates of recruitment, retention, promotion, pay or satisfaction between men and women.   
  • Consult with the women in your organisational pipeline.  As an employer do you really understand how women experience your organisation and what their issues and concerns are? Are there any areas of your corporate culture that are off-putting, what would encourage women to stay?   
  • If any interventions or policies are to be successful, they must have senior commitment and backing to drive them through. Leader’s behaviour is particularly important and can send very powerful messages; it’s about walking the talk as much as it is about talking the talk. Opportunity Now’s research indicates that female managers are more critical of senior leaders’ behaviour and less convinced of their commitment to creating inclusive work cultures than their male colleagues.
  • Establish and promote flexible working practices and work to reduce presenteeism. Outputs and performance should be rewarded, not the amount of time spent in the office. Encourage male participation in flexible working. In challenging economic times where salaries are being frozen and bonuses are vanishing, flexible working can offer a way of keeping talented people engaged and motivated and creating more agile organisations. Enlightened employers are actually seeing flexible working as a way to retain expertise, cut overheads and motivate staff.

Sarah Williams Gardener is director of Opportunity Now, an orgainsation that works with employers across the UK to promote the business benefits of creating inclusive workplaces which fully tap into the talents of both men and women.

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