EngagementDiversity & InclusionAn overall approach to diversity

An overall approach to diversity

If you were lucky enough to be in London earlier this year on 7th July, you will have seen a rainbow of colours. It was London Pride 2018 – and businesses were getting involved.

Companies from every sector competed to have the biggest (and loudest) float. Stores lining the route donned a host of colours. Some brands even launched special products; in an example close to our hearts at MediaCom, Skittles gave up their rainbow for the second year in a row.

We put the Pride flag outside our offices to show our support too. It may not have seemed like an awful lot, but it made many of our employees feel safe and proud to work there. As many of us will be working longer than the previous generation, why not make the experience of working a more fulfilling, enriching and colourful one?!

The sheer scale of corporate involvement was hard to miss and, indeed, in some quarters there were comments about ‘pinkwashing’. It’s clear that the march is about much more than big business. But Pride is a clear example of business putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to diversity and actively acknowledging – and celebrating – an important section of customers and employees.

All too often stories about businesses and diversity are negative: organisations are very rightly called out for discriminatory practices or for failing to do enough. But Pride models how businesses can play an immensely powerful role in setting a gold standard for the society we live in. To shake off the bad guy persona, organisations must actively join the fight for diversity, starting from within.

Not philanthropy, but power

For businesses to be true advocates for inclusion, it’s time to lose any lingering idea that promoting diversity is somehow ‘philanthropic’ or simply a tick-box exercise. It’s time to realise and openly acknowledge that diversity benefits business, in a whole host of ways.

Diversity is key to competitiveness, especially in the digital world. Customer demands are evolving at a rapid pace and it’s critical for every sector to keep up with what their market wants. To continue to understand their customers, businesses must reflect them – or be outstripped by those that do.

Innovation is vital and the quality of ideas in a business directly depends on its diversity. Hire the same personalities and backgrounds and your company will be limited to one voice. Diversity then is worth fighting for and it depends on fostering inclusion throughout employees’ careers.

You can’t fit a person on A4

Efforts to improve diversity often start with recruitment. But diverse recruitment depends on diverse candidates – and it’s here that businesses often say they struggle. A lack of “good” female candidates was actually one of the excuses given to the Hampton-Alexander inquiry into female underrepresentation on boards.

To paraphrase the airline safety speech, however, sometimes the best candidate is not immediately obvious, especially with traditional recruitment processes. The CV is an archaic way of assessing a person’s background and what they can bring to your company. Search by academic qualifications, or a certain profile, and you’ll be limited in what you’ll find.

There are better ways to understand the person behind the paper. At MediaCom, applicants for our entry level roles answer open-ended questions that explore their experiences, with questions like “what’s the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to you?” Candidates are often hired because of their answers, rather than their previous internships. This type of process enables businesses to better understand what a person could contribute and so creates greater openness to candidates from all walks of life.

Baby? I want you back

An endemic challenge that can impact women throughout their careers is motherhood. The gender pay gap between men and women is 10-15% before the birth of a woman’s first child, before steadily increasing to 30%. Yet all too often, the impact of motherhood on women’s careers is treated as a choice made by the individuals involved, rather than a challenge that businesses should help them to address.

Women can feel locked out of the workplace after children are born, concerned about striking a work/life balance or that their skills have diminished. The result is a huge amount of wasted talent – and limitations on businesses’ diversity efforts.

Organisations can take active measure to support mothers and indeed fathers. Ensuring that all roles can be considered on a flexible, remote or part-time basis is a powerful step. Equally, businesses can intervene at the critical moment when mothers are looking to return to work.

Offering dedicated support and returners’ events helps to build women’s confidence. Equally businesses can create bespoke roles for women to bring the most value to the organisation. At MediaCom, we’ve found several outstanding candidates at our returner events. Through such schemes, businesses can help to level the playing field and benefit from incredible talent they might otherwise overlook.

Grasping the nettle

Getting the most from your employees depends on everyone feeling able to be their full selves at work. Employees can still come up against underlying assumptions based on factors like race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. This may have a positive impact on people’s perceptions or a negative one, but either way it amounts to discrimination. It’s critical therefore that organisations don’t avoid difficult conversations and create a culture and mechanisms for tackling challenging topics.

We’re looking to address this through a reverse mentoring scheme specifically matching people from different backgrounds: for example, a white male director and entry-level women from a BAME background. This allows both parties to share their experiences openly and gain new perspectives on the workplace.

As time goes on, specific diversity challenges will become more pronounced – and it can feel like a failure for both individuals and whole companies to admit to problems. However, it’s only through fostering a culture of openness – and taking action – that businesses can identify and address their issues and foster lasting inclusivity.

A powerful ally

Business can be an incredibly powerful channel for improving diversity. Businesses have an enormous impact on people’s day to day lives and can genuinely affect change – and gain huge benefits for company performance. People are now not just looking to the government, but businesses in much the same vein to drive real social change.

But that means taking pride in our diversity efforts, rather than seeing it as a rod for our own backs. By actively supporting inclusion throughout their employees’ careers, businesses can be a force for good for diversity in the UK.

By Nancy Lengthorn, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Future Talent at MediaCom

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