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You pay lip service to diversity at your cost

We’ve all heard of the benefits of a diverse workforce – research shows that companies with a good balance of men and women are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors, and those with a good mix of ethnic background are 35% more likely to as well.

It seems obvious that in our global economy the most competitive workforces will be those that are the most diverse. Those that best reflect and understand the diverse populations they target.

Yet there is a yawning gap between what businesses say they are doing to achieve genuine diversity and what the data tells us: that in fact equality, diversity and inclusion are getting worse. It’s the age-old story of the tick-box policy gathering dust on a shelf.

Writing this, my thoughts turn to how Sarah Morris was ousted from her role as HR chief at Aviva, the UK’s largest insurer and a company which has frequently boasted of its family-friendly policies. According to media reports, Morris, who is recognised as an advocate for inclusive diversity in the workplace, supporting initiatives such as OUTstanding, EMpower and HERoes, was put on gardening leave while she was still on maternity leave. She never returned.

Morris was responsible for introducing equal parental leave for Aviva staff across the world and was instrumental in securing support for the recommendations of the Women in Finance review into gender diversity. She is a member of the 30% Club steering committee, which campaigns for gender balance in business, and of HRH the Countess of Wessex’s Women in Business Forum. An impressive CV for an HR Director by anyone’s standards.

Then there’s Sacha Romanovitch, the first woman to run a big city accountancy firm. She stepped down from her role at Grant Thornton after some of the firm’s partners and directors criticized her leadership style. They accused her of misdirecting the firm which they described as out of control with no focus on profitability. Yet Romanovitch, who capped her own salary and championed mental health in the workplace, argued that, “If profits get unhinged from purpose it might not hurt you now, but it will come back and bite you on the bum.”

Statistics from the FTSE 100 make for equally depressing reading. Currently, a FTSE 100 CEO is more likely to be called John than to be a woman. In 2018, rather than increasing, the number of BAME directors of FTSE 100 companies went down. And more than half of main boards in the FTSE 100 currently have no ethnic minority presence at all. 

Women of colour face a double whammy
As a 50-something woman of colour I’ve experienced plenty of discrimination myself. The effects of discrimination on women of colour can be far-reaching, as recent data shows.

Research in America by LeanIn.Org, Survey Monkey and the National Urban League found that black women are paid 38% less than men and 21% less than white women.  A further study by LeanIn with McKinsey found that Asian, Latina and black women receive less support from their managers and are promoted more slowly.

This resulting disparity in wages costs women of colour a staggering $800,000 in lost earnings over the course of their career.

Technology isn’t helping
Developments in technology are making it easier for firms to discriminate against people when hiring online.

A survey by law firm Slater and Gordon found that one in five bosses admit to unlawfully discriminating against individuals when advertising jobs online. Almost 23% admitted to discriminating against women and 32% said they have blocked over-50’s from seeing their posts.

Why equality, diversity and inclusion matter to business
The most successful companies know that inclusivity and diversity add up to a competitive advantage. This isn’t just conjecture. It’s backed up by hard facts.

According to research by McKinsey and Company, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity outperform their competitors by 15% and those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity outperform their competitors by 35%. Having at least one female on the board reduces a company’s risk of bankruptcy by 20%. Reports show an inclusive organisation is twice as likely to exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be agile and innovative, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.

This works both ways. While McKinsey found that the most diverse teams perform best,  they also found that the least diverse teams perform worst. 

Why would any business ignore this data?
It’s time to stop talking and start acting. The modern age is going to be Brexit driven and we are all going to have to have a strong global focus. Yet, if businesses can’t develop diverse teams at home, how on earth are they going to develop strong, diverse partnerships internationally?

In saying all this, there are positive signs. The Royal Academy of Engineering has its first ever female chief executive, Hayaatun Sillem. Under her leadership they recently published the results of a survey into corporate culture in the engineering industry. One of the key findings was that 80% of respondents said the feeling of inclusion increased their motivation and 68% said it improved their overall performance.

We have one humanity made up of all races, all genders, all religions, all abilities. As Sheree Atcheson, Consulting Inclusion lead at Deloitte UK and another woman of colour in a senior leadership position, says, “It’s so important that we hear all voices.”

Diversity is not a trend or a tick-box exercise. It’s a necessity, for every successful business and every successful business leader who values humankind. Its rewards are only going to increase. Those who recognise this will move further ahead, while those who don’t will fall further behind.

Miti Ampoma, Founder and DirectorMiticom Communications Training

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