D&I. Side-by-side and hand-in-hand. It sounds fantastic, utopian even; a transparent, welcoming world where individual differences are recognised and everyone feels confident, valued and part of a common purpose. But can it be more than just an idealistic concept in today’s working world and, if so, how?
I was delighted to have the opportunity to explore this topic with a panel of expert guests for the third episode of the Phoenix Talent Talks podcast series in partnership with the Business Post. Senior D&I representatives from DLA piper, PwC and Enterprise Ireland joined myself and BP's Elaine O’Regan to further examine this topical subject in a 2020 Irish employment context.
So, what exactly does Diversity and Inclusion mean? In very simple terms, diversity means recognising and acknowledging differences. In an employment context, it is acknowledging that all employees are different; recognising the benefits which a diverse workforce can bring to an organisation, and ensuring that the organisation and its workforce is representative of its customers.
Inclusion is where people’s differences are valued. In an employment context, people are respected for who they are and what they bring to the table, and they feel empowered to succeed in their working environment.
Hiring a diverse workforce is not enough - it is key to adopt a “top-down” inclusive approach supported by fair policies and procedures, which empowers and enables a diverse portfolio of people to successfully work together.
Gender is, of course, an understandable focus when it comes to Diversity & Inclusion. However, it shouldn't be the only one. As Stephanie Good in PwC discussed, nine times out of ten her clients will start a D&I discussion with a gender focus. However, Stephanie encourages clients to think broader than the nine grounds provided for in legislation and look at additional factors like socio-economic background. Why? It is in keeping with the spirit of the topic, it typically results in better buy-in and it keeps the company actively working on its D&I efforts for longer, rather than potentially losing momentum if figures improve in one area.
Undeniably, equal recognition and access to success in the workplace regardless of external factors (e.g. gender, social background, sexual orientation) is a common societal goal. However, the question we discussed during our podcast was whether employers should care and, if so, why?
In short, the answer is yes. Employers can’t afford (literally - see below) to ignore D&I, and what it looks and feels like in their own organisation. Aside from it being inherently just and fair, here are some pretty compelling reasons as to why D&I should be on every employer's radar:
Talent attraction and retention: D&I is something employees increasingly expect companies to be tuned into and to have translated into real D&I initiatives and policies.
In addition, employees expect a diverse and representative interview process (an all male/female interview panel - no, thank you!), clear and transparent pathways to success, representative senior leadership teams, internal influential D&I committees, relevant external memberships (e.g. the 30% Club, OutLAW Network, Trinity Access Programme) and agile working arrangements.
My advice to employers - if you have it, flaunt it! Ensure your interview panel can knowingly and passionately discuss your organisation’s D&I efforts. It can give you a competitive edge in a widely candidate-driven market.
Your customers/clients expect it: people want their providers/advisors/suppliers to reflect them - e.g. diverse and representative - so they're placing increasing value on a company whose decision-making process is influenced by a variety of perspectives and opinions.
Caoimhe Clarkin confirmed that, with international clients who have employees and products all over the world, DLA Piper strives to provide their clients with a diverse, representative workforce to reflect this. Their clients expect it. Their exciting D&I efforts include a representative senior leadership team, a founding member of OutLAW Network - which brings LGBT+ people and allies in the Irish legal sector together - agile working arrangements at all levels, plus a broad D&I definition which includes socio-economic factors (e.g. focused on extending access to a legal career to those who would not typically have access.)
Better business decisions: following on from this, decisions made in an organisation that have the benefit of a broad, diverse range of skill-sets, experiences and view-points will by their very nature be more informed, considered and rounded and, therefore, ultimately better for business.
Your competitors are doing it: it is not just a case of keeping up with the Joneses. Do you want to attract and retain the best talent and continue to grow your quality customer base? See the previous points!
Your bottom line will ultimately increase: one of the biggest business cases for diversity is still its beneficial impact on the bottom line. According to McKinsey, companies that rank highest for gender diversity are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. Those with high ethnic and cultural diversity also showed a 33% likelihood of outperformance on EBIT margin.
This was reinforced by Sheelagh Daly of Enterprise Ireland and the research the government agency carried out as part of its 2020 Action Plan for Women in Business, which sets out a number of strategic initiatives that EI will embark on to attain greater gender balance in Irish companies and entrepreneurship.
Organisations can struggle to find a starting point when first considering D&I in the context of their own organisation. This is normal. Also, remember that each organisation’s D&I strategy is unique to its own company and culture. Stephanie Good of PwC recommends 3 key points for organisations to consider when starting their D&I journey:
Leadership support: the leadership team sets the tone and influences culture in any organisation. Therefore, organisations must adopt a “top-down” approach. The senior leaders in a business must act as role models and treat D&I as business critical. Sufficient resources, both people and budget, must also be approved and allocated.
Accountability: assign D&I ownership to an accountable executive with appropriate time resources, and make it part of their key goals and performance metrics.
Data: understand where you are now as a company in your D&I journey. Don’t make assumptions about what the issues are. Collect quality data, including your invaluable employee feedback, so you can understand what needs to be addressed and how best to do it.
Stephanie advises that senior leadership should then put a clear, tailored D&I strategy in place and, crucially, properly communicate it to stakeholders, including employees.
I am afraid not. Nor is there a one-size-fits-all solution. However, I was inspired to hear about the progressive D&I initiatives that companies like DLA Piper and PwC are undertaking, and of initiatives like Enterprise Ireland’s 2020 Action Plan for Women, which includes financial support.
Diversity and Inclusion is an ongoing, organic journey. It is unique to each organisation, but one that must be undertaken for companies' best assets - their people.
Talent Talks is available here, on businesspost.ie and all of your favourite channels.