Now is the time to create a truly diverse team

18 May 2021 5 min. read
More news on

As the world navigates the new future of work brought about by the pandemic, it is necessary for all businesses to make diversity and inclusion a reality, according to Jenni Hibbert, a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ London office.

The issue of diversity & inclusion has been on corporate agenda for some time now, but there has been such slow progress. Gone are the days when corporations could use the justification of not having enough diverse talent within the applicant pool. This can no longer be a valid reason for having a business that isn’t diverse. 

With studies showing more people from many racial and ethnic backgrounds are attending third level education than ever before, there is an ever-growing range of candidates across all sectors of business to choose from 

Jenni Hibbert, partner, Heidrick & Struggles

In fact, in recent years, larger organisations are removing the need for applicants to have a third level degree altogether in order to give opportunities to people who do not have the luxury of attending university. Other organisations are looking to secure candidates from less traditional sources or identifying people from within their current team who could step up to undertake the role. 

Basically, there are options available to organisations and the “pipeline” problem cannot be used as an excuse. 

Knocking down the hurdles still in place

It would be naive to think that because we are in this “new”, “inclusive”, “modern” world there are no hurdles which underrepresented people must overcome. Systemic bias is still occurring on a daily basis (including in professional services) and this may include your own organisation. It is happening throughout companies, from senior to junior roles, no one is immune to it, regardless of the organisations’ want to be an outlier of the issue.

Systematic reinforcement occurs at every level, and involves aligning performance drivers, institutional practices, and capabilities to remove any unintentional systemic preferences.

A simple way to safeguard against systemic barriers is to ensure that the panel formed to recruit employees is diverse. If these HR or other department leaders come from different circumstances, they are far more likely to want to hire from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Further reading: Companies with diverse boards accelerate diversity and inclusion.

There is a further opportunity, if you want to use an external form of hiring, such as a recruitment firm. Ensure you do the correct research of their past experience and placements and check if they are very focused on diversity and inclusion in their work.

‘Cultural Fit’ is no longer necessary

There has been much criticism of organisations using ‘cultural fit’ when hiring new talent. Numerous Black recruiters have stated that it is still being used today to try and block underrepresented talents from attaining positions that they are more than qualified for, on the basis that they do not ‘suit’ the culture of the organisation already in place. This unclear and unmeasurable criteria should be eliminated. 

Additionally, by incorporating this idea of ‘fitting’ into a certain culture, employees can be afraid to express their views and opinions in the workplace, views and opinions that are potentially of huge benefit to the firm’s profitability. There is definitely a place for a devil’s advocate to avoid the dreaded groupthink. Stifling ideas and individual thought creates a ‘one-size fits all', where no arguments are made as people are scared to offer a different perspective. 

This is why organisations have made such an effort in recent times to conduct training throughout the year on inclusivity, as to not let it become an unconscious bias. The danger of unconscious bias is that we are unaware of it, so can’t see the problem for ourselves. 

An inclusive leadership

The road to diversity and inclusion begins at the top, with an organisation's leaders. To create an inclusive and diverse organisation they must lead by example. Inclusiveness should be bred into the entire organisation, thus leading it to be a more appealing employer for potential candidates that come from all backgrounds, including underrepresented ones. 

It is very important that leaders make the purpose and benefits of diversity and inclusion very clear. Inclusive leaders promote cooperation, model flexibility, and lead through influence rather than control. 

Act now

Studies have shown that aside from any other benefits, diversity has a positive effect on financial performance (for example, this McKinsey study). It is no longer just an ethical issue, but a financial one as well. The reputation of a firm is of huge importance, so falling behind in the curve in terms of diversity and inclusion is both financially and reputationally risky. 

Businesses must hold themselves to a higher standard, and realise that they can and have to do better with all aspects of diversity. Now is the time to put the steps in place to create a truly diverse team. It won’t happen overnight so the sooner action is taken, the better.