The 2015 business buzzword has got to be 'diversity', and the sheer lack of diversity at board level in the UK is facing increasing scrutiny.
In the Green Park Leadership 10,000 survey, conducted this spring, it was revealed that the level of those from an ethnic minority in leadership roles has declined over the last 12 months and while there had been an increase of women at boardroom level, it was disturbingly low.
While the topic of ethno-cultural diversity is high on the agenda, issues such as gender, sexual orientation and disability inequality have also rightly come into play.
Below are some of the statistics found by Green Park:
• The number of 'non-white' chairs in the FTSE 100 has risen to only 3 from Spring 2014
• The number of female chairs has risen from 1 to 3 from Spring 2014
• The only individuals of Chinese and east Asian origin on Main Boards are present as Non-Executive Directors.
• At Top 100 level, the level of Non-White leaders at decreased by 0.5% in 12 months
Of course, creating a company with a diverse composition begins at board level in order for the culture to trickle down to the rest of the company, ultimately creating a strategic, future proofed business that replicates it client base and hosts a vast range of skills, insights and competences; resulting in strengthened customer relationships. So with all of this in mind, it is shocking that all white male boards seem to reign supreme in the FTSE 100!
Successful businesses thrive on creativity and innovation, this simply will not be achieved if you have a group of people with very similar backgrounds and experiences all behind the driving force. Divergent background leads to a variety of skills, insights and competences and enhances the ability to adapt in the ever changing world of business. Businesses may be not overtly discriminating, but are the behaviours demonstrated in current boardrooms inclusive to females and ethnic minorities, to the LGBT community and to those with a disability?
No doubt there will be a range of diversity within the client base of any business, so if a company structure refuses to reflect this – they are not only failing clients, but also doing a financial disservice to the business. Diversity across the entire workforce not only applies credibility but also provides an extra level of knowledge and sensitivity, allowing you to engage with your customers on a deeper level, anticipating their needs and strengthening relationships, all leading to the Holy Grail – increased profits and ROI.
This is NOT just a transparent PR exercise, it's easy to pay lip service and implement a quick reshuffle; this is creating an agenda of change. By applying a 'window dressing' approach to employing women and those from minority groups at board level will be instantly transparent, as what is wanted is ALL staff being given viable opportunities to rise through company ranks, and once they are at the highest levels – they stay there. Telefonica appear to be leading the way with this approach by introducing a 'Women In Leadership' program into the business; through mentoring and development sessions, it supports women in the business by developing the skills required to progress their career to the highest levels in the company.
Mentoring schemes such as 'Women in Leadership' can be an invaluable experience to staff, cementing their belief in the availability of career progression within the company and increasing staff loyalty. They serve to educate and encourage collaboration; both go a long way to increase the productivity in a workforce and creating the opportunity for an ongoing positive change.
In a 2012 Government survey, only 46.3% of working age disabled people were employment, there are some incredible EU case studies about the positive outcomes of mentoring between disabled and able bodied employees.
Introspectively evaluating the current company policies could provide an insight into any obstacles that could be preventing current staff progressing their career. Policies such as flexible working has a legacy of only being made available to female staff, who are prone to feeling side-lined because they have family commitments. The outdated approach of only making flexible working available to women can also add to a feeling of resentment among other staff, and result in gathering workplace tension. By re-evaluating working hours and shift patterns to exert an accommodating and empathetic attitude to all team members. This isn't to say everyone will work when they choose, but that there is flexibility in what is available, this will also serve to create a pipeline of young talent as a fresh outlook on HR policies will be attractive to universities leavers looking for exciting and attractive companies to work for.
On the topic of 'young talent', implementing apprenticeships within a business is an innovative way to introduce diversity into a business. Apprenticeships are often mutually beneficial, they offer businesses a fresh perspective and new ideas, whilst providing young people a route to in which they can reach their full potential, many of which may come from disadvantaged backgrounds, or have struggled in an academic setting.
A Union Learn report stated that both women and those from an ethnic minority are currently often under-represented in the Apprenticeship stakes. A business that is an avid supporter of apprenticeships, particularly those that embrace all angles of diversity is undoubtedly going to gain respect and an improved reputation in its community as well as industry and will have an edge over competitors, especially when encouraging diversity in the company at both end of the spectrum.
Many large business have now published targets for improving representation of women and those from minority groups at executive levels, setting a benchmark for the rest of the UK to follow – with this being such a prevalent topic, we hope to see a sustainable change in reports issued in 2016.
By David Walker