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The Changing Working World – the role of diversity and inclusion

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The impact of creating more diverse and inclusive work environments on an organisations performance has been a hotly debated topic for over two decades. Research by Deloitte identified an 80 percent improvement in business performance when levels of diversity and inclusion were high and there is a raft of other research from companies such as Mercer, McKinsey and EY to support those findings.

Changing workforce demographics, globalization, government policy and increasing employee expectations all play a part, but many companies struggle to make any meaningful progress.  Whether this is seen as window dressing, a pet project or a strategic imperative there is no hiding from the fact that the world of work is changing.

The term VUCA is regularly used as a reference to new world dynamics that are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – we only have to look at the last ten years to see the levels of unprecedented change, which are only going to continue, if not accelerate. Organisations that are diverse, inclusive and agile will have an increased advantage of adapting to the new normal given that they will have a broader pool of perspectives, experiences and ideas to draw upon.

Given the above, why do so many companies struggle to make meaningful, and sustainable progress in creating a more inclusive and diverse work environment?

There are a number of reasons for this ranging from lack of real executive commitment to change the culture (and when I say ‘real’ I mean much more than lip service or ticking a few boxes) right over to seeing this as an initiative rather than a wider enabler to effective business delivery. Whilst ever organisations see D&I as something that is on the periphery to business delivery rather than embedded throughout everything they do they will not be able to unlock the potential business benefits outlined in so many research papers.

In addition to focusing in a way that is about changing the culture of the organisation, there are three key areas that, in my mind, all organisations should focus on if they want to attract and retain the best talent in the future to respond to increasing uncertainty:

  • New ways of working – how can you create a more flexible and agile working environment?  Ranging from flexibility in working time and locations to taking advantage of new technologies and property re-designs that can create the mindset that ‘work is something we do rather than a place we go to’.
  • Inclusive Leadership – are your leaders, at all levels, equipped and skilled enough to be able to get the best out of all of their team members regardless of their background?  Inclusive leaders are able to do this and have a positive impact on the wider organisation.
  • Social mobility - where are you looking for your next pool of talent and are you putting artificial barriers in their way?  Not every role requires a great degree from one of the best universities and that is not the only measure, or the most important one, to identify future talent.
  • As we continue to consider these points, let’s also consider that:
  • Creating a more diverse and inclusive organisation is not a nice to have, it’s an enabler to deliver better business results 
  • Initiatives alone will not deliver a sustainable impact, focusing on culture change will
  • A VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) world can be most effectively navigated with agile and inclusive leadership
  • You need to identify your starting point (Inertia, Initiatives, Imposed or Inclusion) and create a pragmatic plan that enhances your business priorities 

So, how is your organisation getting on?  Are you wallowing in ‘Inertia’ and don’t know where to start or are you on the right path to creating a more inclusive workplace that is continually setting itself up for success in the future?

Charlotte Sweeney, OBE, Founder of Creating Inclusive Cultures and Charlotte Sweeney Associates