When we think of diversity, gender, race and sexual orientation often spring to mind. However, from an HR perspective, many other minority groups are often overlooked as a source of talent.
According to Lord Davis’ latest report on Women on Boards, the number of females at the top of FTSE 100 companies has doubled in four years. This, of course, is a huge step in equal representation. However, true diversity goes beyond binary opposites and box-ticking. For an organisation to be truly diverse – and reap the associated benefits – it must reflect society in terms of wisdom, creativeness, class, disability and even difference in approach.
Of course, where gender and race can largely be compartmentalised, innately immeasurable qualities such as mind-set and creativeness can be difficult to identify and monitor. HR professionals must then take a softer, more holistic, approach to generating a truly diverse workforce, outside of the metrics that are often used as a benchmark for inclusion levels.
There is no doubt that employer brand is intrinsically linked to consumer brand, and it’s no secret that in order to better understand – and communicate with – all stakeholders, organisations must reflect the customer base that they serve. The paper The Business Case for Equality and Diversity, commissioned by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) and the Government Equalities Office (GEO), advises that there is no single approach that all businesses can adopt to ensure equality and diversity are beneficial. To be effective, equality and diversity need to be embedded in the company strategy, not treated as an ad-hoc addition. Indeed, there is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ process to improve how your organisation reflects wider society.
Diversity breeds innovation, and bringing on board others who have different views and experiences can pay dividends to an organisation. The phenomenon of ‘hiring in our own image’ stems from a natural comfort we find in familiarity. However by surrounding themselves with others with the same drivers, triggers and perspectives, hirers risk creating a troupe of ‘yes men’ and ‘yes women’, which can be detrimental to future creativity and growth.
Disruption of the status quo can have phenomenal results. A case in point is Dr. Alice Stewart , a British epidemiologist who stood against popular opinion by condemning the concept of radiation risk when x-raying pregnant women in the 1940s. Stewart partnered with statistician George Neal, who was determined to reject her findings. It was through not being able to prove that she was wrong, that George gave Alice the confidence she needed to know that she was right.
There are other high profile examples of competitiveness feeding innovation. It has been said that the balance of friendly competition between John Lennon and Paul McCartney added an incredible elasticity to their song writing. Similarly, many have questioned whether Venus and Serena Williams would have each been as successful if it had not been for the catalyst of sibling rivalry.
By building a diverse workforce – not only in terms of physical attributes, but also in attitude and opinion – HR teams stand the best chance of bringing on board the widest spectrum of skills, enabling them to outperform their competitors. However, managing to build an eclectic team that bounces off one another to achieve remarkable results is easier said than done.
When bringing on board fresh talent, it is imperative that hirers don’t ask, ‘in which pigeon hole do they fit?’ – Every employee should fit in their own groove. Diversity is more than a box ticking exercise, and the best man, or woman, should get the job every time.