The pay-gap furore has lifted the lid on inequalities in the workplace. We speak to diversity experts to find out how and why companies should embed diversity into their DNA.

There is still a long way to go to achieve true equality in the workplace. Despite much political momentum, the government’s Hampton-Alexander review found in June that FTSE 350 boards need to “step up” to hit their 2020 female-representation targets, and that 10 companies have failed to appoint even one woman to the board in the past two years. Overall, only one in 15 people from an ethnic-minority background are in a management position. However, for those companies that get diversity right, the benefits include a happier workforce and higher profits.

Reap the benefits

All the evidence shows that the more diverse and inclusive an organisation is, the more successful it is as a business.

Recent data from consultancy firm McKinsey & Co found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity and ethnic diversity are a fifth and a third more likely, respectively, to report above-average profits than those in the bottom quartile. Professor Tom Schuller, the creator of the Paula Principle and an expert on the gender pay gap, says that flexible working should be a priority for men and women employees.

“It allows people to combine work with other interests and priorities – and most sensible and interesting people do have interests and priorities other than, or rather additional to, their employment,” he said. “The benefits? Better motivated and more loyal staff, with broader perspectives on life and work.”

Shape the workplace

Sam Smethers, CEO of the Fawcett Society, a gender-equality charity based in Workspace’s China Works in Vauxhall, says everyone at a company has a role to play beyond setting targets, although some people have more power and influence than others. Men can be good allies at work, supporting their female colleagues and challenging a sexist culture. She says, “Women need to support other women to enable them to challenge discrimination. They can also help to shape the workplace culture they want it to be.”

Figures show that more needs to be done. Last year Equileap, an organisation that promotes gender equality in the workplace, ranked the top 200 companies worldwide, on gender equality using criteria including equal pay, maternity/paternity leave and corporate policies to empower women. In their 2017 publication, companies scored no more than 22 out of 35 points. In the most recent publication, 2018, companies were scored on a maximum of 100 points. Please find the 2018 Global Report and Ranking here

Treating employees well

Despite arguably slow progress, there are some shining examples of how employers are encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Formation Architects, based at Workspace’s Kennington Park, regularly gives staff the opportunity to bring in homemade dishes to share their heritage, because around half its employees are from outside the UK. It also supports flexible working, with several young mothers and fathers on the team, and gets involved in community projects, quiz nights and Friday drinks. The company is a top 100 firm, according to Architects’ Journal, which gave it a special mention for being at the “vanguard of equality”.

Pearson, a publishing and educational company, is another good example. One third of its employees engage in some sort of flexible working, and the company offers a “phased return” maternity scheme, where women can work part-time for the first two months while being paid for full-time hours.

“We have made diversity and inclusion a strategic priority – something that is deeply embedded into the DNA of the company,” says Irma Wade, Vice-President of HR at Pearson UK and core markets. Pearson is hiring a new Senior Leader for Diversity and Inclusion, as well as strengthening employee-resource groups for women in learning and leadership, LGBT equality and disability and accessibility.

Staff inclusion

Formation Architect’s Director, Neil Farrance, explains that his company participates in a shared employee-ownership scheme, which means that the pot is divided across all staff members according to seniority. This partly explains why the firm boasts almost 50% women. He says, “I’ve been at the firm for 30 years and when I studied, a woman on a construction site was unheard of. Now it’s routine.” Employers should also think about the physical disabilities and mental-health conditions of their staff. Tab Ahmad, Managing Director at EmployAbility, an organisation that places thousands of people with disabilities in jobs, said many health conditions are “invisible” so employers might not realise the scale of the issue.

Tab Ahmad, Managing Director at EmployAbility
 

 

The key thing for employers to think about is the wording when asking staff or candidates questions about disability or adjustments,” she says. “Often employees don’t want to speak up as they don’t know what that information is being used for or what it might imply about them.

Employers can give candidates extra time to do tests, adjust their work stations and allow more flexible work, such as taking breaks, starting later or leaving earlier. “We often ask employers to start off with small initiatives, pilot schemes,” she said. “They don’t need to change everything overnight.” Small changes can lead to big gains. In the end, diversity rules.

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