Helena Parry: True diversity is not just a numbers game

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Diversity has become one of the most common phrases in today’s workplace, but, aside from a meaningless buzzword which companies use for PR purposes, it is still unclear whether businesses are actively trying to build a diverse workforce or simply attempting to make up the numbers.

The introduction of quotas for females on executive boards, for example, has been discussed and debated, so far without success. This is a something which is clearly reflected at the yearly World Economic Forum at Davos.

Two years ago, under pressure to address inequalities at the highest business level, the WEF introduced a quota system demanding that their largest members send one female representative for every four males. On top of this, last year’s meeting included a celebration “honouring women innovators” and several boardroom discussions on “women as the way forward.”

And yet, as this year’s forum began, the proportion of female delegates has somehow fallen from the already low 17% to 15% over the last two years. Gender diversity was a hot topic once again at Davos 2014, but the issue was debated by the same old males that have inhabited the forum’s conference rooms in years gone by.

It may be possible to tick a few boxes by introducing a quota system, but the example of Davos shows that when it comes to achieving true diversity, there is no quick fix. In order to have a workforce with a depth in culture, ideas and background it is necessary to look past the figures.

The same issue of true, as opposed to manufactured diversity, can be seen in the classroom. If you had walked into a major business school 20 years ago, you would have encountered lecture halls dominated by white, male middle-class students with similar backgrounds. Today, the same classrooms are filled with pupils of all different nationalities, cultures and both genders seemingly reflecting huge progress in business diversity.

However, upon looking deeper, it’s evident that whether these students are from Beijing, Birmingham or Bratislava, the range of world views remains just as narrow. Therefore when these candidates enter the workforce, they will struggle to bring a fresh line of thought, no matter what nationality, culture or gender they are.

One business school which has embraced the need for true diversity is Nyenrode Universiteit in The Netherlands, which has increasingly tried to attract candidates from areas such as politics, academia and the arts. According to Nyenrode Associate Dean of Degree Programs, Desiree Van Gorp, having a variety of different backgrounds creates what she calls a “Renaissance MBA” and will help students learn from each other.

“You need a mix of gender, age, professional aspirations, nationalities, industries and educations if you want to push a class to look beyond common boundaries and reconsider how to approach what they’ve always known.”

Quotas may appear to address the issue of business diversity in the short term. But true diversity in the workplace will always be about more than just box-ticking and numbers.

As part of its commitment to addressing the diversity challenge, Ochre House will be hosting a webinar on 13th March in which an expert panel will discuss how C-Suite, HR, Talent and Resourcing Leaders can develop a more strategic approach to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in their organisations. Register your place online today:  http://www.ochrehouse.com/Network-and-community/Events/Inspiring-Change-and-Transformation-Diversity-Inclusion-Webinar

Article by Helena Parry of Ochre House

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