By Shivani Smith, Partner and UK Charities Lead at Perrett Laver
The Financial Conduct Authority recently finalised rules to boost diversity on company boards and executive committees. Listed companies are now required to disclose targets on the representation of women and ethnic minorities, in order to improve transparency on the diversity of company boards.
This is welcome news across recruitment. There have been countless studies which comprehensively demonstrate the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. A diverse leadership team leads to greater productivity, innovation and culture.
But even if things feel like they are moving in the right direction, evidence shows there hasn’t been huge tangible progress when we look at the bigger picture. It takes time to change hiring practices within a workplace culture, and the fact there is still a need to make the case for diversity shows how far we have to go.
Pinpointing what diversity means
Before diving into issues of progress in diversity, however, it is important to clarify what we mean by ‘diversity’. We need to take a broad, intersectional view that goes beyond visible attributes and consider both inherent, and acquired characteristics of diversity. While we are making more progress through recruitment practices that address bias around gender, faith, race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, we’re still lagging on addressing ‘acquired’ diversity attributes. Organisations should actively seek to represent a range of backgrounds, languages, education and life experiences. This will ensure that employers are genuinely thinking about, and reflecting a wide range of perspectives, rather than simply ticking boxes on a piece of paper. For executive search firms, it is crucial to place emphasis on the diversity of experience and thought, just as much as representation of underrepresented and under- served groups.
Tracking progress in diversity
Gender diversity has grown over the past decade. This year’s inaugural FTSE Women Leaders Review found that almost 40% of board level positions in FTSE 100 companies are occupied by women.
We have also seen greater numbers of ethnic diversity in the boardroom. The parker Review revealed that the target of every FTSE 100 Company having at least one person from a minority ethnic group on its Board has nearly been accomplished. By December 2021, 89 of FTSE 100 companies had met the “At Least One by ‘21” target.
In many ways, race and gender have almost become easy boxes to tick in recruitment as these features are profoundly visible. If you can literally see difference, it can become easier to demonstrate progress. But this can them come with an unintended, and undesirable cost and consequence where other areas of diversity that are hidden or invisible, such as neurodiversity or learning disabilities may be neglected. An intentional approach is essential, with employers and recruiters aiming to target and attract broad fields of candidates.
The value of diversity has never been higher on the agenda. A recent Glassdoor survey found that 67 % of workers consider diversity when seeking employment. Equally, a growing number of employers are embedding D&I strategies in their hiring process.
Whilst many companies have an authentic commitment to improving diversity, there is still a lot of work to be done. Employers, for example, might genuinely want to prioritise diversity in their recruitment practices, but operate under the impression that they may need to make a choice between the ‘diverse’ candidate and the ‘best person for the job.’ We have to challenge the idea that it’s a dichotomy to put diversity and excellence in the same sentence, as if the two are mutually exclusive.
The other elephant in the toom is retention. Many employers can fall in the trap that diversity goals are achieved when the new employee walks through the door. But the conversation on retention can often be just as illuminating as that of recruitment. Research from Lean In discovered that 58 black women are promoted to manager for every 100 men. These statistics underscore the barriers to career growth and development even once an appointment is made.
How can recruiters lead from the front?
To build on the tentative steps, companies need to have that very explicit commitment to recognising and welcoming diversity in all its forms. Seeing representation might be as simple as a statement on a website. How welcoming and inclusive is your language whether that’s in your workplace manuals or chitchat in the office?
From a search point of view, recruiters have a responsibility to be proactive. The idea that diverse profiles are ‘harder to reach’ needs to be challenged. We need to flip the narrative that talented people from diverse backgrounds are hard to reach, but instead make the time and effort to reach them, and be innovative and intentional.
If employers want to move the needle on diversity, they need ensure that they think beyond recruitment and consider retention, development, and training. What are employers doing to invest in their D&I and demonstrate commitment in the form of promotions, opportunities and incentives. A diverse workforce is just the beginning. Organisations should be striving for an inclusive workforce that values and celebrates difference, where individuals feel respected, and where they feel they belong.