“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” – George Eliot
Brands and advertisers spend a lot of time and money trying to follow and understand their increasingly diverse audiences, but do they really reflect them? If not there is a strong case that this lack of diversity could be stifling potential business growth too. Particularly when trying to compete on a global stage.
The commercial argument for diversity initiatives is increasingly compelling. Studies suggest that organisations that ‘deliver on diversity perform better financially, recruit from a wider talent pool, reduce staff turnover and increase creativity and problem solving capability’ (http://sciencecampaign.org.uk/CaSEDiversityinSTEMreport2014.pdf)
Expanding talent pipelines through diversity is nothing new, but it is essential for an industry that relies on people for its success to remain competitive, relevant but above all, futureproof.
The tech and digital industry, which often feeds from STEM subjects is acutely vulnerable to any blockages. Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) suggests a 40,000 shortfall of Stem skilled workers annually. So addressing diversity issues across all areas, naturally stocks broader talent pools from which to fish.
It’s not easy though. Trying to define diversity let alone how to address the challenges it raises is enough to leave business leaders and HR professionals reaching for the headache pills and it is not simply a case of waving a magic diversity wand and every talent problem being instantly resolved. Far from it “Diverse teams can work well when there are complex problems to solve, but if you are not careful, they fracture. You need sophisticated management systems.” (Prof Lynda Gratten London Business School - Future of Work Consortium)
Inclusivity and common goals
Widening access is only one part of the problem then. More important is how inclusion is managed once people are part of an organisation. It is all very well having a commitment to diversity in talent attraction but how do you then make sure you have an inclusive culture that allows for ‘career fulfilled’ individuals to become part of a competition busting team?
Research by PWC (Project 28-40 study) suggests that Career fulfilled staff are highly engaged and therefore more productive, so getting everyone to that level within a business is essential for success. Worryingly the study estimates that only five to 10 per cent of women sit in the career fulfilled group. It’s therefore crucial to have a strong talent value proposition, agile working practices and strategies that can unite diverse workforces behind a common cause and shared objectives.
It may not be gender, background or ethnicity that is missing when you look up from your screen and around your office, perhaps it is that only the relatively young are represented. This can lead to huge knowledge and efficiency gaps. A CIPD study on age diversity suggests that between 2022 and 2032 ‘the population under 50 years-old increases by just over 10 per cent (from 50 million to 55 million) but the population aged 50 and over nearly doubles from nine million to 17 million.
The Diversity diversion
Perhaps the invisible victims in the race for diversity are the socially disadvantaged. Class prejudice and educational snobbery can easily be colour or gender blind but still keep the door closed to those in poorer socio-economic groups.
It is estimated that raising all children to current average levels of educational attainment could contribute £56bn a year to the economy by 2050, the equivalent of 4 per cent of UK GDP (State of the Nation, Social Mobility and Child Poverty commission, 2013) If we truly want world beating creators, innovators, techies and scientists this has to change.
There are a myriad of motivations and competing interests at play even within the diversity debate. From moral and social to the calculated and commercial. What’s more important though is that the cohesion that comes from building diverse and successful teams and therefore powerful working environments, in the long term, fosters greater cohesion outside of work too. Giving people a chance to go on and succeed on merit and to be judged purely by their contribution.
To build a more fluid talent pipeline is an imperative, but to also leave a broader legacy that says we are open for business as an industry, no matter our differences, gender, ethnicity or otherwise would really be quite something.
Liam Morgan, Founding Partner and MD, Cogs Agency
Tel: 020 7749 0777