There are increasing amounts of studies that show the business case for creating a more diverse workforce. Many companies with female leaders have been found to do demonstrably better financially, while some have found that offering work placements to international students has helped overcome cultural and language barriers.

However, true diversity is more than having 25 percent female representation in board rooms or meeting quotas for age and ethnicity. While the fact that diversity is good for business is no longer disputed, there are still very few establishments that are effectively implementing it in terms of inclusion into company culture.

“Diversity to my mind is a bit of a numbers game,” says Nicky Moffat, leadership consultant and ex Brigadier in the General British Army. “Inclusion is much more than that. It’s about people coming to work and feeling that they are part of a culture that truly values their contribution.”

Chairing at Radley James’ second diversity breakfast including panellists Amir Kabel, global diversity and inclusion manager at Vodafone, Ann Swain, CEO at The Association of Professional Staffing, and Anthony Watson, president and COO of Bitreserve, Moffat explains her belief that the conversation surrounding diversity “needs to shift” from an HR responsibility to become led by businesses and leaders.

“Playing the game of diversity”

From a leadership perspective, there are many companies that are held as exemplars for their diversity implementation. As of this year there are no all-male boards left in the UK’s FTSE 100 companies and Coca Cola claims their recent Human Rights Campaign Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality award demonstrates their aim to “mirror the rich diversity of the marketplace [they] serve” worldwide.

Despite the clear advantages of developing an inclusive working environment for all, closer inspection of company culture reveals that many of these inclusive measures are perhaps only surface deep.

“[They’re] playing the game of diversity,” says Ann Swain. “Money is being spent on PR to look like we’re doing the right thing.

“Becoming an employer of choice is an important thing for big companies but they think that becoming one is not about the internal policies that they are implementing, it’s about having a website that says they’re diverse.”

The Employer-of-Choice (EOC) service, operated by The Training Foundation, aims to help organisations improve their performance through people management. It recognises employers that offer innovative incentives to improve the experience of their staff for the greater benefit of the business.

However, although recognition of improvements is helpful in terms of raising awareness, the Radley James diversity panel unanimously agrees that the only way to really promote change is to invest in making the entire workforce, whatever “minority” category they fit into.

“They don’t really understand how to enable [diversity],” says Anthony Watson, explaining that many companies rely on quotas or the expectation that it will sort itself out in time. “It’s not simply the commercially right thing to do, it’s the morally right thing to do. And companies are really struggling to put that into practice.”

Becoming future-proof

An example of an inclusive policy that has been successful in both recruiting and retaining talent has been introduced by Vodafone. The telecommunications company has implemented a generous  worldwide maternity policy that offers 16 weeks fully paid leave followed by six months of full pay for part time hours upon return to work.

Amir Kabel explains that the hardest thing for new parents is the transition from parental leave to the return to work. Vodafone’s research revealed that the costs of this policy were marginal in comparison to the financial and productivity savings made in keeping their best staff. It’s this recognition that makes us “connect to each other,” he says:

“It’s the mindset and the culture. Globalisation will push leadership to understand and become future-proof.”

In the meantime, the government are promoting quotas as a first step to greater diversity in the UK’s workforce. Opinions on this are divided, with many arguing that talent may be reduced by having to select from a specific pot of people, while others feel it’s likely that there are likely to be incompetent people in any role so the implementation of quotas don’t make much difference with regards to skill.

Ann Swain is coming round to the idea because of the prevalence of senior level roles that are allocated because of connections and relationships over talent.

“Having people moving up through the system is a bigger change than quotas can promote,” she says. “[Businesses are] not going to keep women or [any other minority] if the culture excludes them for whatever reason they got the job in the first place.”

Homogeneity stifles innovation

Recruitment is a key consideration in the creation of a diverse and inclusive workforce. One current challenge for businesses trying to expand the experience of their workforce is attracting the talent in the first place in a time when the market has shifted in favour of the candidate for negotiation.

“[Recruiters] need to get out of the mindset of linear experience,” says Anthony Watson, explaining that many companies fail to see the value in transferrable skills and experience from different industries.

Swain agrees, suggesting that part of the problem lies in the relationship between businesses and recruitment companies.

Recruiters are under more pressure than ever to find candidates with very specific criteria in as short a space of time as possible. There is an argument that such a narrow list of desired skills alongside the swift turnover requirements means that there is little opportunity for them to find applicants that can bring a wider viewpoint to the company through either inherent diversity or that acquired by experience.

Swain suggests offering to pay more for a more diverse candidate:

“Money talks,” she says. “The situation would change overnight.”

Radley James’ event highlights the many areas where it is possible to introduce true diversity within working environments, but as Nicky Moffat concludes, these changes “require real energy, commitment and resource.”

“However the business case suggests that that will repay itself,” she says. “Whereas policies without action are just words on a page.”