The view from London: Diversity and inclusion - five steps to shift the dial

The volatility and complexity of business and societal issues in today’s world has created a burning platform to bring diversity of thought in every forum and to drive successful outcomes that work for a wide range of stakeholders.

But while we are seeing greater awareness on the gender, race and social mobility agendas, progress is slow.

We have come a long way in addressing overt racism and gender discrimination, but it is widely known that at the current rate it will still take 108 years to close the global gender pay gap, that there are more CEOs called Steve in the FTSE 100 than there are with an ethnic minority background, and that social mobility within the UK has remained “virtually stagnant” since 2014.

Layer on top of this some of the more disturbing news across the globe on race and gender discrimination, and it can feel that achieving equality remains an elusive quest.

I am a big believer that we won’t address this problem just through human resources, government campaigns or annual award ceremonies in swanky hotels. Each of us can ignite a behaviour change, lead by example and be actively inclusive within our teams, businesses and communities.

Using my experience, I have set out five steps you can take to make tangible progress on diversity and inclusiveness:

1. Let’s talk about it

The first step you can take is to understand the uniqueness of the challenges and opportunities of different diversity and inclusion (D&I) groups in your businesses. Organise an informal focus group in your department and find out about the uniqueness of each individual, create a safe space for them to share how they see the workplace through their eyes and when they have felt excluded or empowered. I was very surprised when I led the focus groups about how even the smallest changes can make a big difference to when someone feels like they belong. 

2. Build awareness

Use the output from those focus groups firstly to share widely with your teams and department to build awareness. Share those examples of when someone felt excluded and when someone felt like they genuinely belonged to the team or organisation.

I have noticed it is easy to get stuck in these first two steps and end up just having a good conversation on D&I without tangible actions put in place and so the next three steps are where you can make a real difference. 

3. Ideas into actions

Now that you have data and output from the focus groups, set up a meeting with your business leaders and HR to understand what can be done to address the issues raised or to share the best practice widely. These could range from: 

  • Role models: having better visibility of relatable role models at each levels of seniority is important for D&I groups. You can interview the role models and share with the rest of the organisation via mobile videos or newsletter articles.
  • Team socials: thinking of the timing and venues of team socials, making sure we are not excluding those who have carer responsibilities or those who are not comfortable going to socials heavily around drinking. Celebrating significant cultural events is also a nice way of bringing everyone together.
  • Flexible working: one of the most common topics in D&I workshops is flexible working and how it helps cater for the needs of each D&I group. Flexible working can lead to an empowered and productive team and you can discuss these at your weekly team meetings, eg, by allowing extra time for lunch for Muslims who offer their Friday prayers or an individual with anxiety of travelling in peak hour and allowing them to work slightly different hours. 

4. Reverse mentoring 

In many instances, leaders of our organisations are genuinely open to drive change in D&I but may not necessarily know how best to help and tailor their coaching conversation and styles to cater for the needs of each D&I group. Reverse mentoring is the idea of buddying up managers and leaders with individuals from each group to have an open conversation either on race, gender, ability or social mobility. Have a conversation about when you felt you could bring your own self to work and when you couldn’t.

5. Skills building

While the above steps address the demand side by encouraging and engaging wider population on the importance of D&I, we cannot lose focus on addressing the skills gap if one exists. For example, some ethnic minorities may find speaking up for themselves, presentations and negotiation skills do not come naturally as they may come from a culture where other attributes are valued higher.

Differentially investing and coaching individuals of each D&I group to help build the skills necessary to succeed in your line of business is key.

It is imperative that each of us actively engages on this agenda to help us retain top talent from a wide range of background and to bridge the diversity gap. 

Asif Chowdhury is a member of the ICAEW Younger Members London committee and a senior manager at EY. He works with organisations and communities to encourage better conversations to help achieve equality. This article was originally published on London Accountant.

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