As businesses have fought to withstand the coronavirus pandemic, diversity and inclusion (D&I) has slipped down – or even off – some boardroom agendas. In a survey by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, 27 per cent of D&I leaders said their organisations put most or all of their diversity initiatives on hold because of Covid-19.1
But the crisis has also given business leaders a chance to think: about how to future-proof their business and about the mark they want to leave on the world. They are realising it isn’t the time to put D&I efforts on the backburner; it’s the perfect moment to ramp them up.
“Now, more than ever, businesses need to be open to new approaches, new ideas and new perspectives,” says Emma Gange, Head of HR at HSBC Global Private Banking. “Diversity and inclusion is absolutely key to how you retain and engage not just your staff but also your clients, customers and stakeholders. It should be front and centre.”
Diversity and inclusivity isn’t just a “nice to have”; it’s a moral imperative and a commercial advantage. US-based consulting firm McKinsey’s Diversity Wins report shows that diverse companies outperform their industry peers on profitability. They’re also more innovative, more creative and they make better, bolder decisions. Diversity and inclusion is an “essential enabler of recovery, resilience and reimagination,” according to the authors.2
The challenge for business leaders lies in shifting organisational cultures and taking meaningful action. As Harvard Business School professors Robin Ely and David Thomas note: “Taking an ‘add diversity and stir’ approach, while business continues as usual, will not spur leaps in your firm’s effectiveness or financial performance.”3
Here’s how you can go beyond box-ticking to make real change:
- Rethink the way you recruit
“It all starts with the decisions you make on who joins your workforce, whether that’s a graduate, an intern or a senior manager,” says Gange. “Instead of relying on your existing networks, look for talent in unlikely or overlooked places and be open to candidates from different backgrounds. If you use third-party recruitment partners, insist on diverse shortlists.”
Make sure job specs are unbiased and inclusive. You can also level the pitch with blind recruitment, which removes key information such as name, age and educational background from a candidate’s CV before it’s given to the hiring manager, flipping the focus to skills and experience. The Spectator, a London-headquartered magazine, runs a no-CV policy for its interns: “We don’t ask for CVs: we don’t care where (or whether) you went to university. When we judge applications we don’t even look at names… We’re only interested in aptitude and ability,” writes editor Fraser Nelson.4
- Be an inclusive leader
It’s front-line leaders who make or break progress on D&I. They set the tone and they do something. Teams with inclusive leaders are 17 per cent more likely to report that they’re high performing, 20 per cent more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29 per cent more likely to report collaborative behaviour, according to research by Harvard Business Review.5Leaders must constantly bang the drum for D&I, challenge the system and empower others to change it.
“It has to be crystal clear that this is something the board cares about,” explains Gange. “At HSBC, we have employee networks focussed on gender, age, ethnicity, LGBT+, faith, working parents and carers, and ability – and each one has an executive sponsor and senior-level support. D&I is tied into the bank’s performance management system: team leaders are responsible for driving the agenda forward and they are held to account.”
- Foster a sense of belonging
“Diversity” and “inclusion” are so often lumped together that they’re assumed to be the same thing. They’re not. Diversity equals representation, but if your culture isn’t inclusive – making all employees feel valued and providing them opportunities to thrive – those talented employees will leave.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development defines workplace inclusion as “feelings of belonging, having a voice and being valued for your unique and authentic individual skills and abilities”.6Encourage empathy by giving employees the chance to share their personal stories and lived experiences. Provide education around unconscious bias and inclusive language. Narrow the advancement gap with mentoring, coaching and sponsorship schemes. Make sure no one is left wondering “what about me?”
- Assess, learn, improve
One-off initiatives aren’t enough. Businesses need to continually collect and measure employee data. Who are you hiring? Who’s being promoted? What’s your retention rate? What percentage of people with protected characteristics do you employ – and how does that compare to your national average? Frameworks can help businesses assess their diversity data, but numbers don’t give the full picture. They don’t reveal how influential a given minority group is within an organisation or whether individuals feel valued. A mix of quantitative and qualitative data – tracking diversity alongside surveys to monitor staff wellbeing, for example – is key to knowing how to tailor your business’s efforts.
- Speak up
Silence is not golden. Employees need to feel comfortable calling out bad behaviour. Gange says HSBC has established a “speak up culture”, putting systems and structures in place so employees feel safe to raise concerns – whether that’s through informal “Exchange” meetings or through its whistleblowing channel HSBC Confidential – and feel certain that they’ll be taken seriously. The bank also provides a range of training materials through HSBC University to help managers encourage open and honest conversations. “It boils down to creating a supportive environment where employees can speak up – and be heard,” says Gange.
By HSBC Private Banking.