Why a successful business is a diverse business

05 January 2022 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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Businesses finally seem to be getting the message about the importance of diversity. As companies look to become more inclusive, Thoughtworks UK’s Head of Diversity Amy Lynch discusses how to get the most out of a diversity drive.

Last month, Thoughtworks commissioned research of over 2,000 businesses from a range of different sectors looking into their approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and whether a proactive approach to these issues was a common trait of the most successful businesses.

The study found that companies anticipating significant growth in the next year were three times as likely to be leaders on DEI issues as businesses scaling back, 50% more likely to have effective plans and initiatives in place to improve their DEI and significantly more likely to see DEI as a business necessity, not just a ‘nice to have’.

Amy Lynch, UK Head of Diversity, Thoughtworks

We often hear from companies that diversity in their organisation is a top priority, that they believe they are leaders in their field or do more than most to address their DEI. But, there’s an important difference between companies that are intentional and effective in improving DEI standards within an organisation and those that simply sponsor a float at the Pride festival once a year and not much else.

Performative acts or throwing money at a problem and expecting it to be fixed is absolutely the wrong approach. Addressing systemic issues at the root of serious problems within a business requires intentional, meaningful change at the centre of strategic business decision-making, culture and processes. Without this, nothing is going to get better.

Measure and monitor the issue

For any business leader serious about DEI – and serious about receiving the benefits as a business from doing so – my question would be, how are they measuring it? You can’t improve what you don't measure and without good data it’s virtually impossible to drive anything meaningful.

For example, if businesses look at their overall population as an organisation, how many identify as women? What grade are they? What tenure? What roles are they in? Where are there gaps and what needs to improve? Only at this point is there any sort of sense of the measures that could be put in place to make a difference.

There is also the temptation to see a problem and believe it can be fixed in one fell swoop. Sticking with the gender example, what many businesses tend to do is say, ‘we haven’t got enough women and UGM (under represented gender minorities) in our organisation, so we’ll go and recruit more of the people we don’t have.’ All too often, this misses the point. While the issue of headcount may be addressed, the issue of fostering an inclusive environment where all feel valued, have a sense of belonging and are able to thrive could still remain.

Is there a gender pay gap in the organisation? Are there inclusive benefits that support working families? Is the experience of working in the organisation a positive one? Are the rates of progress and promotion the same as their counterparts? Do they feel they belong in the organisation?

If these fundamental parts are missing, then the likelihood is that people the business has recently recruited may not stick around for very long and the company is back to square one. Attrition rates will be high and the probability of recruiting the top talent low.

The key lies in having reliable answers to all these questions, with regularly mined data to challenge or support any assumptions that might exist. At Thoughtworks, we run anonymous employee engagement surveys regularly, giving people an opportunity to tell us about their experiences, whether they feel valued, the fairness of opportunities and so on. The results of these have given us the basis to introduce a range of initiatives over the years, as well as track and improve our progress.

Starting small

To some organisations the challenge faced in addressing DEI issues could feel overwhelming. It is common to see organisations paralysed into inertia as a result of simply not knowing where to start.

True, DEI is a broad and multifaceted area but it is not possible to boil the ocean. Introducing small, achievable steps that will continually improve is the best strategy.

For example, in September this year, Thoughtworks launched its first bi allyship resource to help drive bisexual inclusion. Bi people are less likely than lesbian or gay people to feel comfortable being out to friends, family and colleagues and data from surveys validated this was the experience for some of our colleagues too. This led us to work with our bi colleagues and our LGBTQ+ network to produce a trans allyship guide which includes why it's important, top tips and how to access support we launched this to all staff as part of a Transgender Awareness Week.

These are relatively small things but each one helps us to understand what we can do differently and better to ensure all colleagues feel valued, safe and supported and can be their authentic selves at work.

Scratching the surface in the tech sector

While there have been many positive steps in the tech sector as a whole, we are still at the tip of the iceberg. According to the BCS and The Chartered Institute for IT, there were 300,000 ethnic minority IT specialists in the UK in 2020, who are less likely to be in ‘positions of responsibility’ than those of white ethnicity (37% vs 41%), twice as likely to be in non-permanent positions (6% vs 3%) and less likely to find employment from contacts in post (21% vs 24%). The gender pay gap still remains, without much pressure from the government to change it. Additionally, people with disabilities are under-represented in the tech sector, with the average pay around 88% of the remuneration for tech specialists without disabilities.

The pandemic has shifted the goal posts, with the return to offices coupled with more hybrid working presenting new challenges such as a culture of presenteeism – where achievements will be dependent on facetime rather than on the quality of work produced.

Will we ever reach the point where there is no need for DEI goals and measures, where parity has been reached and everyone is free from pretence or prejudice in the workplace? We can hope one day. For now, understanding the challenges within society that affect colleagues and putting measures in place that will drive meaningful change, is a positive movement which is gathering momentum.