7 April 2017 | By David Mills Community

How leaders can drive diversity

Employers know that diversity and inclusion make good business sense – and it’s down to leaders to make it happen

Diversity is important. That’s why business leaders have incorporated diversity targets into their KPIs, and invest heavily in diversity initiatives.

Yet research by Russell Reynolds Associates has regularly shown that diversity and inclusion must be achieved in tandem - not as independently targeted goals. A holistic approach is required to create a diverse and inclusive culture, led from the top.

Leaders are responsible for a diverse workforce and inclusive culture, Russell Reynolds’ January 2017 survey of more than 2,000 executives revealed. The survey aimed to understand how companies align around diversity and inclusion. Respondents have indicated that leaders are responsible for creating a diverse and inclusive culture, yet consistently say that their own organisations are not doing enough. To embed best practices across the business and accomplish the desired culture change, leaders must be committed to the end goal and be held accountable to deliver it.

Leaders must focus their attention in 4 areas:


Commitment is needed, but action is what counts



Leaders need to be accountable for delivering on the identified diversity and inclusion initiatives. This is where organisations face significant challenges: 45 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men surveyed disagree with the statement “Leadership in my organisation is held accountable to foster a culture of inclusion”. Advocacy is insufficient when not followed by measurable actions – for which leaders are accountable.


Managers need incentives to attract, retain and develop diverse talent



Lack of incentives for managers is cited by 40 per cent of respondents as the most significant barrier to attracting, retaining and developing diverse talent. Only 33 per cent of respondents say that senior leaders consider inclusion behaviors as promotion criteria. The failure of leaders to prioritise diversity and inclusion among new and existing talent prevents progress.


Address your own diversity



When asked if senior leadership is sufficiently diverse, 61 per cent of women and 42 per cent of men disagree. This is unsurprising, although some sectors struggle with delivering diversity at the top more than others. A mere 10 per cent of the executive committee of FTSE 350 financial services firms are women. Industrial and natural resources firms languish further behind with 8 per cent. It is not a coincidence that employees within these sectors were the least satisfied with their company’s inclusive culture; diversity and inclusion are indivisible.


Develop an inclusive culture



According to our research, incorporating inclusion initiatives into business strategy has a greater impact on HR outcomes than diversity initiatives. The positive effects include employee engagement and belonging, the attraction and retention of diverse talent and decreased likelihood of turnover. With these goals at the heart of all businesses, developing an inclusive culture should be a primary focus of leaders’ time and resources.

Embedding diversity and inclusion practices into company culture requires absolute commitment from leaders. Only then will businesses move the dial on both diversity and inclusion, and be able to capture the full value this culture change presents. 

Read more about diversity and inclusion research from assessment, recruitment and succession planning consultants Russell Reynolds Associates.

Catch up on the discussion from the CBI's 25th April inclusive workplaces event​

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