Diversity – how diverse is your business? And what benefits might you gain?

When I travel in and around London the different accents and languages I hear always amaze me. OK, so on the tube quite a lot of people are tourists and so you’d expect the tower of babel but not everyone is a tourist. And that got me to thinking about how businesses benefit from the perspective of the different cultures etc. working within them and how they nurture this.

But of course diversity goes beyond gender, race and creed and for each of us no doubt means something different. So what does diversity mean to you and how can it benefit the organisation not just at grass roots level but also at management levels, senior executives and on the board itself?

Diversity also needs to take into account age, disability, sexual orientation, levels of education and so on.

Time to take time before it impacts on your well being

Just in the last month 4 different reports on diversity in businesses, especially at senior executive and Board level have been published. And they all have shown that the growth and sustainability of a business benefits significantly from having true diversity.

In FTSE350 boards first time appointments for women have risen from 11% in 2007 to 47% in 2012. Also the requirement of all non-executive directors to have had board experience has dropped from 46% to 29% making it much easier for experienced business people to add value to other businesses without the need to sit on a main board first. This in turn opens up the opportunity to so much new and different talent being brought to the board. See the Korn/Ferry Whitehead Mann report.

The Eversheds report on ‘The Effective Board’ also found that companies with smaller boards had stronger share prices and better financial results. Where those who had been interviewed considered ‘a board or 6 or 7 better able to make decisions but at the same time if they don’t ensure there is a diverse board they will not be as aware of the threats and opportunities as they should be. And clearly businesses also need to ensure there is the diverse talent pipeline within the business too.’

This report also pointed to having younger people on the board as these businesses also perform better. The mix of generations Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y will certainly add to the mix and assist the business in its growth. Interestingly another report from the Cass Business School for Odgers Berndston has found that the demands of the X and Y generations are more aligned to the skill-set of female leadership styles.

Sadly when it comes to disabilities the experience of many is that the disability is seen and judged before the person. My own cousin is registered disabled and its taken more than 2 years to get a job even though she has the most amazing track record of working with young people and children with learning and physical disabilities. It would appear that interviews are easy to come by as people can then be seen to be considering disabled employees whereas too many barriers are then put in the way to hiring that person. Fortunately she was headhunted only this week and so there’s a happy outcome. Other people I know with severe disabilities have to work hard to prove themselves and I don’t know about you but I often find myself asking why they have to do so.

The summer is also prime time to start hiring graduates, many will have secured a job before their finals, and no doubt some are conditional. However it has again been raised that only considering those with 1:1s i.e. the ‘top talent’ is not always the best for the business. A report from SHL says ‘it’s clear there is a talent shortage in the UK and restricting recruitment to the high performers is short sighted.’ The report uses eight characteristics, which drive effective performance and found that in the so-called top talent only 1 in 15 demonstrates these characteristics effectively. SHL chief science and analytics officer Eugene Burke says ‘employers should look at building up graduates to be the right talent for the company rather than buying in the top talent, which in itself is creating unprecedented levels of competition in the war for graduate talent. ‘

Looking differently at the way they recruit will enable employers to hire the right talent for the business and also retain that talent.

One comment on the report was that someone who was the best Dr was unlikely to be the best academic and more likely to be someone who was a gifted musician. You may indeed want someone who is very left brain as a surgeon but that’s not the best recipe for all areas of medicine.

Another overlooked pool of talent are the armed forces reservists and the ex armed forces. These people are getting or have got the most amazing leadership training and are used to dealing with a diverse range of people. Research in 2010 with employers who hire reservists showed that ‘83% agreed that they gain transferable skills which couldn’t be learned outside of their civilian jobs including communication, decision making, team building and leadership skills’. And with so many leaving the armed forces at the moment there is a massive pol of talent to add value to UK plc.

Sadly the Cass report referred to earlier has found that not all organisations are ready for wider cultural change and they means for greater diversity.
It does however note that companies that pursue business as usual do so at their peril. 82% of the respondents to the report recognised that a different leadership style will be required to motivate people. And that talent must be attracted and retained from a more diverse and fluid workforce.

So how diverse is your business, and how diverse is the talent pool that you are nurturing in your business? And are you open to consider greater diversity on the board and also a smaller and more agile board? I’d really like to hear your thoughts.