Re-designing diversity: from shortfalls to success

A group of colleagues in a business meeting, most laughing and smiling while discussing company matters.


Updated 9th October 2020

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Diversity continues to be one of the most salient issues for hiring managers and leadership teams. With very little empirical evidence to suggest a series of best practices, it is a challenge that requires serious investment, with ongoing research, experimentation and feedback.

Table of contents

What is diversity and inclusion?

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace is the term to describe the complete participation, respect, acknowledgement, acceptance of employees, regardless of their age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or physical abilities.

Why is diversity and inclusion important to me?

The benefits of establishing a diverse workplace are undisputed – a multi-faceted workforce has also been shown to improve engagement and productivity, encourage creativity and lead to a more innovative working environment.

Yet, the current state of play shows there is still plenty to be done. Worldwide Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020 sparked a larger conversation about the state of diversity in every sphere, including business. While this is something that many (particularly those from underrepresented groups) have spoken out about for a long time, it took this global event to be a catalyst for many companies to create better diversity and inclusion practices.

In 2018, the Missing Pieces Report, published by the Alliance for Board Diversity and Deloitte found that 34% of Fortune 500 board seats are held by women and minorities. This falls short of the target of 40% of seats held by those from underrepresented backgrounds by 2020.

When it comes to gender diversity, women made up 25% of executives in Fortune 100 companies and only 22.5% of executive committees at Fortune 500 companies in 2018 [2]. While this is progress on the figures in 2016 (where only 20.2% Fortune 500 sets were held by women), in certain industries, there is more work to be done. For example, Facebook has reported that the number of women working at the company was only 23% in 2019, (up from 15% in 2014) and there has been no increase in the 6% of black technical workers at Apple over five years [3].

How to create a diversity and inclusion plan

In August 2020, Tiger hosted a webinar with three diversity and inclusion specialists, Simon Fanshawe, Partner at Diversity by Design and Co-founder of Stonewall; Holiday Phillips, Founder and Chief Wisdom Officer at KULA; and Sarah Ramsden, a Management Consultant at The Clear Company. They discussed the increased interest in diversity and inclusion and how employers can create a sustainable diversity and inclusion plan for their businesses. Watch the webinar below.

How can you raise awareness of diversity, equality and inclusion?

Raising awareness of diversity, equality and inclusion within the workplace can be difficult. An important place to start is to know your ‘why’ – once you understand your motivation, you can start to target the areas of D&I your business is lacking. A broad, one-size-fits-all policy is not going to be effective in this area. Instead, create measurable metrics that make sense to your business and put in place specific initiatives based on these.

While most businesses are aware of the benefits of diversity, it can continue to be a huge challenge to see positive changes in modern workplaces. There are a few reasons for this:

The first complication lies in the simplification of the concept.

“It’s not enough to want diversity. Every team, office and business needs to decide why diversity is going to help them improve and go from there,” says Simon Fanshawe OBE, co-founder of consultancy, Diversity by Design.

For Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at software giant Atlassian, the term doesn’t do enough to represent the issue as a whole.

“I’m actually not a fan of the word ‘diversity’. According to Atlassian’s research, people associate the word ‘diversity’ with people who come from underrepresented backgrounds, rather than being about everyone,” she says.

“According to Atlassian’s 2018 State of Global Diversity & Inclusion Report, 68% of tech workers in the UK identify women as an important part of the diversity discussion, but the drop off is steep for other groups (and severe for identities in majority groups).”

This unintended exclusion of certain identities from the conversation is a key contributor to a lack of progress in representation: “Businesses should strive to create teams with a balance of perspectives – which is strongly influenced by our identities and life experience,” says Aubrey.

Simon agrees, noting that organisations need to value the difference people can bring: “Research says high-performing teams work because they have an ability to encompass and embrace difference and set new norms of ways of working,” he says.

In fact, it is these situations that positive diversity results, or diversity dividends, come about. Scott E. Page, a University of Michigan professor in complex systems and political science argues that “when solving problems, diversity may matter as much, or even more than, individual ability.”

Other benefits of diverse hiring include improved employer branding, better hiring management practices, increased employee satisfaction and better business performance.


Effective diversity initiatives

So, what practical steps can businesses take to start their journey of creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture?

While successful initiatives will differ depending on the company, size and culture, examples of effective diversity initiatives can include:

With these in mind, it’s clear diversity initiatives need to go beyond quotas and broad policies.

“Good intentions are not enough. Leaders have to see the value in the process, but research tells us we can’t re-educate.” Simon says.

“Creating a new norm is fundamentally important to the ways we change our behaviors.”

At Atlassian, the concept is ingrained into their mission, with each employee expected to contribute according to their role. Taking a data-informed approach, they measure, experiment, learn and iterate, and where possible, share these findings with the global tech industry, recognizing that it’s an industry-level problem that requires broad solutions.

“We’ve pioneered a team-level approach to measuring workforce diversity, and have used those insights to drive a greater sense of belonging among our global workforce,” says Aubrey.

Depending on the company and industry, the success of initiatives will vary. The steps to improving diversity in tech startups, for example, will differ compared to a global investment bank.

When it comes to attracting groups like return-to-work parents, initiatives like flexible working are critical. However, without support from management, businesses will be unlikely to retain these talented individuals.


Diversity in recruitment

Diversity in businesses starts with recruitment practices. While some businesses have started to change up their traditional processes in an attempt to minimize bias (by using blind resumes, increasing skills testing and standardized interview questions), others are completely revamping their hiring activities.

One particular win for Atlassian was a growth in technical female hires in entry-level graduate roles to 57% over two years, as well as an increase of overall hiring of women in technical roles to 18%. To do this, Aubrey and her team deployed a number of strategies.

“First, we created branding that appealed to a broader variety of candidates. Our Talent Brand Team updated our careers site to include a more balanced set of Atlassians, and highlighted a more inclusive set of perks and benefits that appealed to people at different points in their life, like career growth opportunities, comprehensive healthcare, and emergency backup childcare,” says Aubrey.

“These changes made most people coming to the site feel like they recognized not only themselves, but the type of activities, social occasions, and work settings they wanted to work in,” she continues.

The second element was to re-examine the requirements of a role.

“According to Hewlett Packard, the majority of women won’t apply for jobs unless they think they meet all the criteria posted. However, most men will apply even if they only meet 60% of listed requirements.”

“We now write job advertisements with requirements as the lowest barrier to entry, instead of a wish list for a magical unicorn,” continues Aubrey.

For Simon, re-designing the recruitment process away from requirements is essential to encouraging diverse mindsets.

“Most diversity work that goes on doesn’t involve enough re-design. When hiring or promoting, businesses need to think very hard about what the team or group is trying to achieve,” he says.

“From there, they need to establish the criteria they want to hire against and question these rigorously. They also need to consider why they are wanting to diversify and what kind of diversity would make their ability to achieve that goal better.”

This process will ensure that potential candidates are chosen on essential criteria alone, rather than any unconscious bias.

One of the other ways businesses can eliminate this bias is through AI. Atlassian has also found success with Textio, an augmented writing platform that helps them identify the highest-impact language in their job ads and highlights subtly gendered works within their copy.

Medium close up of a young woman leading a team meeting.


The future of diversity and inclusion practices

With all this in mind, where do businesses go from here? For Simon, it’s not about shifting thinking, but acknowledging that bias exists and creating new norms that remove the need to make decisions that encourage it.

“Research tells us we can’t re-educate out of these decisions but we have to re-design processes.”

He encourages businesses to reject the idea of culture fit and instead bank on individualities: “The new norms come from a combination of difference and that’s where you get the dividends from diversity.”

“The most interesting thing about other people is how they are different from you, not how they are the same,” Simon finishes.

For Aubrey, the objective is simple: “The ultimate goal is to build a balanced team, in terms of skill and ability as well as varied life experiences and knowledge people bring to the table.”

1. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/center-for-board-effectiveness/us-cbe-missing-pieces-report-2018-board-diversity-census.pdf

2. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/center-for-board-effectiveness/us-cbe-missing-pieces-report-2018-board-diversity-census.pdf

3. https://www.wired.com/story/five-years-tech-diversity-reports-little-progress/

 

Author David Morel Tiger Recruitment Team
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