More than just a policy: Why diversity is a winning business strategy

Paying lip service to diversity isn’t enough any more, getting serious will reap your business huge benefits

Hilary Devey knows how to make a good point.

The gravel-voiced, doyenne of freight wanted to make some noise about women in business. She recently grabbed the issue by the skirt and made a TV series called Women at the Top.

At one point she took a group of people and split them into two teams. Men, women and mixed genders. She set the task of building a tower. The mixed group nailed it and they had the most fun doing it.

The task showed that men and women have very different leadership and communication techniques but they are equally important, and by combining these approaches, a better outcome was achieved.

It was a lesson in diversity.

When it comes to the D-word, equality of the sexes seems to get the lion’s share of attention. There is the great quota debate being waged in Europe and back home we have the worrying statistic that women make up a mere 2% of FTSE 100 bosses.

But diversity is about so much more that women in top jobs. Diversity in the workplace takes in race, sexual orientation and culture. It’s about breaking stereotypes and making sure that all members of the team feel they are accepted for who they are.

“There is a clear commercial advantage in getting this right and it is something that businesses need to be aware of and take the initiative on,” says Yvonne Smyth, director at Hays, the leading recruiting expert. “To tackle stereotypes and ensure you have a diverse workforce you may need to take positive action.”

“Having a large spread of people from different background with different ideas increases innovation – there is more than one way to skin a cat.”

Yvonne Smyth, director at Hays

There are many benefits to diversity and some of them are commercially driven. One of the main advantages is enhanced creativity.  

“You have more ideas coming into the workplace and different debate,” says Smyth. “Having a large spread of people from different background with different ideas increases innovation – there is more than one way to skin a cat.”

Getting the most out of your employees is another benefit. People are likely to be more engaged if they feel they are accepted and go that extra mile.

“We take the issue of diversity quite seriously, research shows it makes better business sense,” says Hannah Grant, head of corporate reputation, Aviva.

“We actively encourage differences as we believe people do better when they can be themselves. The initiatives we have in place are led by senior members of the business and this really encourages an open culture.”

“The value in having a diverse team is clear and directly benefits the bottom line”

Yvonne Smyth, director at Hays

The benefits are not simply internal. It is important from a branding perspective to make sure your team reflects the diversity of your customers. In an increasingly global economy, having a diverse workforce will improve engagement with the brand all over the world.

“We’re an international company and represent apartments in over 60 countries across the world,” says Stuart Winstone, business partnerships director at SilverDoor.

“Members of staff speak 17 languages between them, from Mandarin and Arabic to Portuguese and Hungarian, so we’re able to communicate with clients and property partners from all over the world in their preferred language.

“Working with people from varied backgrounds makes all members of staff more aware of cultural differences and they can often turn to their colleagues for advice on local business etiquette.”

Hiring employees from different cultures is certainly one way to ensure diversity and breakdown stereotypes. There are a number of other ways you can make sure you are encouraging difference.

“You need to have senior management awareness and training so that you are always leading from the top,” says Smyth.

“Increasingly, large corporates have a dedicated person in their HR team whose responsibility it is to monitor and manage diversity. Regardless of organisational size, it is good practice to have someone charged with overlooking it and making sure there is appropriate representative and positive action being taken.  Be aware however, that this action  doesn’t go too far and end up being discriminatory.”

Stonewall, the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity releases an annual list of the top gay-friendly employers. Aviva regularly makes this list thanks to the initiatives it runs around Pride.

“We have a very active Pride network around the world and there is a lot of internal communication about their activity. It raises awareness and makes people feel more accepted,” says Grant.

“We are also a longstanding supporter of the Albert Kennedy Trust whichsupports lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans homeless young people in crisis.”

With members of your team from different cultures and religions, it can be good practice to acknowledge cultural events.

“Being aware of different cultural events is a good way of celebrating diversity, such as Diwali. ,” says Smyth. “Simply by being a aware and mentioning the events it can help people feel included.

“Diversity isn’t just something that businesses should pay lip service to, the value in having a diverse team is clear and directly benefits the bottom line.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • Anonymous

    What a refreshing article - I think many business leaders could do with taking a leaf out of Yvonne Smyth's book!

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  • Anonymous

    I did see the Lord Mayor of London make a big deal out of this. For an organisation that has a very long history of a culture of encouraging its Senior managers to turn a blind eye to junior managers "having a go" at its employees to the extent that it has been taken to and lost several Industrial Tribunals. Now it is apparently obvious why the Corporations HR Dept encouraged its more agressive managers to "retire" including one that had a 35 year history of bullying staff to such an extreme that it turned the stomachs of the mangers that covered up for her during her long career. Its patently obvious the Corporation was clearing the decks so as not to embarass Her Worship...

    The Corporation may feel that it has "dodged the bullet" but the culture still carries on. There is at this moment one particular manager deliberatley with the backing of her managers harrassing and bullying employees because she dislikes them intensly and wants to get rid of them off her team and if an employee leaves of there own accord the Corporation can save money by not paying redundancy.

    Maybe the Corporation should employ Hillary Devey tom sort out the culture there. It certainly needs her talents right now

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