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Gerry Chesterman

fdu Group

Partner

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Is diversity now being fully embraced by organisations?

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In today’s marketplace organisations must embrace new thinking, action and innovation. To achieve this, diversity must be key to driving operational strategy.

Diversity is the key to variety, whether in new markets, overhauling work processes or new products and innovations. It has progressed as a part of companies approach to strategy, yet arguably it has not been fully embraced. If the importance of a diverse approach is adopted towards the top of organisations, it should also be part of the overall talent management and permeate at every level.

Moving on

Diversity as a phenomenon has moved on from simply a focus on age, gender or ethnic background to encompass sector experience, thought and culture.  A focussed, sustainable diversity strategy must not be purely about making quotas or indeed about evaluating global markets, it must be part of reviewing overall strategy. Nor should diversity be over simplified by just seeing it as an opportunity to add different perspectives to strategic discussions, important though that is.

Studies show the mere presence of diversity can compel the majority to consider and voice new perspectives, which of course can be true in any walk of life. A culture of diversity across functions helps business strengthen the bottom line in terms of capturing new markets. When there is a diverse group it naturally gives rise to a variety of innovative ideas.

Laura-Katrin Seitz, Global Head of HR, Corporate Functions at pharmaceutical company, F.Hoffmann-La Roche, said: “The business case for diversity is really very straightforward. While innovation is key to a successful business in Pharma, diversity is key to innovation.

“In Roche Finance we strive to provide talent with diverse experiences as part of their careers and we aim to provide an inclusive environment where colleagues with different backgrounds, personalities and styles work together to contribute a shared vision.

“This also includes gender diversity where, for example, women get a fair share of seats in leadership development programs, as well as receiving the same exposure and opportunities for stretch assignments.

“For any hiring in our most senior roles, we also pro-actively ensure that women are included in the slate. We diligently track progress regarding gender diversity, but we don't apply any quotas. The best candidate will get the job in the end.”

Powerful perspectives

Recruiting in your own image is without doubt one of the biggest obstacles when looking at the issues of diversity. Making a change from recruiting ‘people like us’ is hard to overcome as we naturally veer to what we’re used to.

Companies should look at a more diverse short-list when they’re recruiting. For example, recent studies have shown that female directors were not likely to only add new and useful strategic oversight, but that they have a positive effect on their male counterparts.

But it is also about recruiting across sector too. When a role comes up companies should work straight away on due diligence, and audit properly as to what kind of person they would like to recruit.

Take a finance company that wants to recruit a Head of Finance – it is easier for them to go to a competitor and tempt their staff away with a promotion. Wouldn’t it be more useful to sit down with key stakeholders and those who are connected to the role within your business to run through an audit of who is ideal for the role, and what sectors can be approached, and where this new employee can come from?

Skanska, a leading construction company, is embracing diversity. Harvey Francis, executive vice president of human resources, added: “We embrace diversity, and intuitively believe it is the right thing to do and that the organisation will benefit.  Whilst construction as a sector is changing, it can still be quite traditional which poses some obstacles. For example, of those graduating from engineering or built environment degrees, typically only 15% or so are female. If we are to increase this, we must pro-actively engage with young people about the industry, influencing their academic choices at an early age. 

“We have found that realigning our diversity policy over the last five years has helped it to become part of our culture, and feel that inclusivity is key to diversity or it simply won’t take root. 25% of our senior management team are female, bringing new ideas and innovative thought processes to the business, and we aim to ensure that all recruitment shortlists include at least one diverse candidate. We run programmes such as mixed gender mentoring, and an annual diversity week in which all teams contribute in informal gatherings, which encourages dialogue and learning.

“The benefits of diversity are hard to measure but we feel that our increased focus on diversity within Skanska has enriched our working lives and environment, produced new, innovative ideas and has definitely benefited the organisation. We are proud of the approach so far but there is still much more to do, and we will continue to make diversity part of the fabric of the organisation.”

Don’t fear change!

In today’s commercial world many obstacles impede the progress of diversity. Fear of change and fear of being challenged still exist. Junior management, perhaps the most likely demographic to embrace diversity, may fear that a less-established diverse approach may affect performance, service and delivery, whilst senior management may well be concerned a by being challenged on strategy, especially in this era of increased accountability and shareholder power.

In reality, however, diversity strengthens leadership capability; it enhances the ability to identify and create new business opportunities and improves market insight. Simply put, it allows for ‘out of the box thinking’.

2 Responses

  1. Totally agree

    Also, communities – which we want workplaces to be – have to be diverse to be called a community. Unless you are around people who challenge and disagree with you, it's hard to feel innovative.

  2. Diversity should happen naturally

    The best person for the job should be the best person for the job – regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality or any other differentiation.

    If you're working with me or for me, the primary thing I care about is your skill at the job.  I'd hate to think I was working alongside someone who wasn't up to scratch because our HR department had decided to fill some arbitrary ethnicity quota.

    And diversity is about more than physical qualities.  I want people in my team who go rock-climbing, build motorcycles, read comics and brew their own beer.  I want people who know about 18th century poets, and 21st century musicians.  I want people who can build a wall, paint a house, fly a kite.  They might never use those skills while they're in the workplace, but the very fact that they have them tells me a lot about the kind of person they are.

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Gerry Chesterman

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