Why business needs diversity to survive

EXECUTIVE PANEL: Find out what these top bosses and entrepreneurs think about quotas, talent pipelines and how to fight unconscious bias.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 07 Jul 2016

Diversity and inclusion sound like no brainers. If nothing else, what business wouldn’t want to sound diverse or inclusive? Imagine recruiting for a company that described itself as homogenous and elitist – it wouldn’t be fun.

Yet despite being a perennial corporate talking point, there’s clearly still a long way to go before the diversity and inclusion ‘problem’ has gone away.  At Management Today’s Future of Work event, we got together leaders from the corporate and start-up worlds, to pick their collective brains. Here’s what they had to say.  

KATE BASSETT, Management Today features editor: Why is diversity so important for businesses?

SHAHZAD YOUNAS, CEO and founder, Muzmatch: My company is a Muslim dating app, so obviously we’re targeting the Muslim demographic. But in terms of building the team, the one thing I wanted to make sure I didn’t do was just to hire a load of Muslims.

I wanted different people from different backgrounds and viewpoints. I already understand the Islamic market. What I care about is I’ve got someone who’s hungry, loves the vision and wants to help grow the company.

There are very few female coders in tech, but having a woman on your team is so important, especially if you’re making relationship apps. They bring a totally different angle on things – if you have five guys building an app you’ll have a very ‘male’ vision of how that app should be.

BASSETT: Let’s look at some stats on gender more generally, because they’re still pretty dire.  The wage difference between men and women is 19%, and that statistic hasn’t changed in the last four years. Only 6% of the FTSE 100 has a female CEO, and only 4% of the FTSE 250. How do we encourage different personalities to reach the top?

ANN HYAMS, investor relations manager, Whitbread and committee member of Eyedea – Female Millennials Network: It’s more about improving the pipeline. Lots of people talk about quotas on boards. But at board level a lot of people are hired externally, so it’s actually fairly easy - you can find already successful females on other boards.

But the problem goes all the way down. There’s not much point having loads of women at the bottom, no one in the middle and then bringing them back in again at the top. It’s down to culture.

CAROLINE PLUMB, executive chair and founder, Fresh Minds:  Unconscious bias builds up over time and people don’t notice it, but it inhibits thinking. To drive innovation you need people with different experiences who aren’t going to see things in the same way.

BASSETT: Given that a lot of companies still rely on the old boys’ network to recruit, how do you get rid of unconscious bias?

PLUMB: The first thing is to make unconscious bias conscious. I’m trying to teach my six year-old daughter how to play cards. I was explaining deck – king, queen, jack, 10 – and one of the first questions she asked was why the king was higher than the queen. I’d never noticed, but she spotted it immediately. Once you’re aware of unconscious bias, you can tackle it.

BASSETT: Will things change with the next generation?

PLUMB: I hope so. I feel like we’ve been saying this for a long time, that change is on its way. I’m a big believer in data and transparency. Making the data available helps to identify the issue and size it, which are the first two steps to solving it.

BASSETT: Quotas?

PLUMB: I personally like a target, but it doesn’t have to be a fixed quota. Without data or a target, you’re steering blind.

HYAMS: I agree completely. I think targets are good. But I’m actually quite against quotas. If I were ever hired into a position where there was a quota behind it, I’d feel like I was hired because of the quota not my own ability, and I’d also think that’s what everyone would think, whether or not they did.

YOUNAS: Quotas are a bit of a stop gap – they say you’re doing something but they’re not really the answer. I worked as an investment banker for ten years before I started my business, and when I first started a lot of people were hired through the old boys’ network. The bank now makes a conscious effort not to be tied to those networks – it’s really about being as meritocratic as possible.

NICK GREEN, senior director for talent and capability, Asda: I don’t agree with quotas or targets. Particularly because if you look at the number of roles at board level and whether they’re advertised and made open, you’ll find the majority are not. It comes back down to inclusion and attitude. The answer is in the pipeline, having the right culture and environment for female leaders to flourish when they get to board level.

If you’re looking externally or using search firms, set them that challenge too. If you’re proactive about it you can get there.

BASSETT: Coming to sexual identity, Lord Browne hid his sexuality in the oil industry for several decades before he was outed. He felt he needed to resign as chief executive of BP. Then there was a recent report from Pride in London saying half of LGBT people feel they need to lie about their sexual identity. Why do people feel they can’t be themselves at work?

GREEN: It’s a very personal thing, your sexual preference. You don’t go around saying ‘look at me, I’m gay!’. At Asda we create a culture around a values and one of those values is respect for individuals. Our leadership talk about that in terms of bringing your authentic self to work.

As well as typical LGBT networks, we’ve set up moments in time when colleagues can come together and share their stories. Many colleagues were so moved hearing about the challenges and experiences that they wanted to show their support.

Leaders need to be behind it though. It’s not an easy thing to do. Many senior executives sponsor networks, but more so they use the same language and go around with colleagues to help them share their stories.


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