Why company culture needs to change for D&I policies to truly take effect

If there was anything positive to come from the pandemic, it was to raise awareness of the inequalities amongst different sectors of society. One aspect of that was to highlight the lack of diversity in the workplace.

Companies across the globe are now taking steps to improve the diversity of their workforce, starting with a conscious effort to recruit more diversely. It’s an incredibly important first step but it needs to be recognised as that – just the first step. For a truly diverse and inclusive workforce, D&I has to be ingrained into company culture and come from the top. Management and boardroom level needs to be diverse to enable diverse decision making from the very top and so there is visible diversity – an important factor that will make the workplace feel more inclusive for diverse candidates and employees.

The more entrenched a single demographic is at leadership levels, the more similarity bias will occur. We all unconsciously gravitate towards people that look like us, think like us, have the same backgrounds as us. Therefore, for example, the more white men there are, the more white men are likely to be hired. And the more there is of a single demographic, the more that will affect decision making across the entire business.

Workplace diversity is a huge factor in the decision-making process. Decisions made by a single group of people are far less likely than ‘diverse thought’ decisions to lead to results that work for a range of demographics. A recent study aimed at improving business decision making found that inclusive teams made better business decisions up to 87% of the time.

Has anything improved over the past few years? The recent publication of the FTSE 100 chief executive list showed some bittersweet results for diversity, highlighted by articles from The Guardian and the BBC. Nearly 40% of FTSE 100 board roles are now held by women – up from just 12.5% 10 years ago. It’s an incredibly encouraging statistic. However, delve a little deeper at you’ll also see that only 8 of those 100 businesses are led by women. There are far fewer women in executive roles, those of strategic importance to the business. In fact, just 13.5% of executive director positions are held by women in 2021 – a fall from 14.2% in 2020. There are also no women of colour on the FTSE 100 chief executive list and no disabled women or LGBTQ people in top positions. Clearly, there is so much more to be done in our quest for true diversity.   

It must still all start with diverse recruitment, and this is where recruiters can have the biggest impact. Embedding diversity and inclusion into your recruitment strategy is key.

  • Inclusive job ads – not only will this help encourage diverse candidates to apply, it gives a window into how inclusive the organisation is. Always use gender-neutral wording (numerous studies have shown that this increases application numbers in general), avoid corporate jargon, only include true ‘must-have’ skills and experience requirements, and include all inclusive features and benefits, e.g. flexible working, wellbeing initiatives, or childcare benefits. Ensure you add your D&I statement to the job ad.
  • Anonymous CVs – unconscious bias is hard to immediately eradicate, which is why a growing number of recruiters and employers are starting to use anonymous CVs. Even a candidate name can provoke unconscious bias so take away name, location, dates of education, and any other kind of identifying information to minimise unconscious bias that could affect hiring decisions.
  • Diversify where you post your jobs – to reach a larger section of society, think carefully about where you are posting your jobs. Consider diversifying your job boards and posting on a variety of social media channels (not just LinkedIn). Your aim is to widen your search range to find candidates who might not search on the traditional platforms.
  • Diverse website imagery – ensure both your recruitment website and the employer’s business website has imagery that reflects a wide demographic.
  • An inclusive interview process – adopting a policy of sending anonymised CVs is an important first step but unconscious bias needs to be eliminated at the interview stage too and this is an area in which you can help your clients. Asking the same questions to each candidate is one way to implement this and having a diverse interview panel will help both avoid bias and demonstrate that the company is inclusive. 

That focus on ensuring a sound diverse and inclusive recruitment process needs to be mirrored in company culture. Improving D&I in the workplace can’t only centre on changing diversity percentages, there has to be a fundamental change in the culture of a company to one that embraces and celebrates diverse backgrounds and thoughts. It won’t happen overnight but there are several ways that employers can start to bring about change.

As a recruitment partner, you can bring your insight to this. Have a chat about clients’ D&I policies – whether they have one at all, how they are actioning them, if they are measuring the results. You may want to make some suggestions to help them action their words so that D&I becomes more firmly ingrained in company culture.

Acknowledge lack of diversity in the first place

If work needs to be done, businesses need to hold their hands up, invest time and resources into finding out where the cracks are, and commit to change. Share diversity stats within roles, teams and at leadership levels, and then communicate and acknowledge where change is needed with the entire business.

Mentorship programmes 

Introduce mentorship programmes across different demographics to strengthen diversity. Research has found that being mentored by someone can increase the confidence and satisfaction women and minorities feel from their jobs. Mentoring can provide support, create a feeling of connection, help diverse employees feel seen, and stimulate personal and career development.

Diversity training 

Diversity training can work if carried out properly. That means not as a one-off training day but perhaps as a series of events, plus more of a focus on an awareness and celebration of different cultural and religious festivals. It also needs to be measured to ensure it’s working. 

Acknowledging all holidays 

Consider offering ‘holiday time’ rather than determining Christmas, Easter, and other Christian holidays as set time off. Offering holiday hours to be used at the employee’s discretion on holidays that mean more to them is a small thing that can mean a lot. 

Publish a diversity statement – and action it!

Set out the business’ policy, commitments and grievance procedures as pertains to D&I and publish it on the website, job ads, and in employee contracts. This is the business’ public commitment to D&I in the workplace so they must ensure they’re not just words.

Bias-free language guidelines

Just as you might have branding guidelines, terminology that you use consistently within the company, consider one that determines bias-free language. This could be seen to be just another document but words are extremely powerful and can easily become actions so make sure the words used in every part of the business are bias-free.

We need to get to a point where it feels strange when you’re sat in a meeting room and the majority of people at the table are of the same demographic. When the leadership team photos on a business website are a mix of genders, races and ages we are starting to get somewhere. When that begins to happen, we might be getting closer to a truly more diverse and inclusive workforce. 

Share this article: