By Christie Day
The business case for Diversity and Inclusion in the corporate world is partly about profits as well as people. No one is going to argue against the ethical reasons for progressing D&I within an organisation but many businesses now realise that increasing diversity in their workforce can also improve the bottom line. Greater diversity within a company will help it connect better with its customer base, make it a more attractive proposition for prospective talent and ultimately give it a competitive edge.
Some cynics might say that boosting the bottom line has been a major factor in pushing D&I departments up the company organisational charts. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that D&I initiatives were buried underneath a multitude of other priorities for company HR managers. Fortunately many businesses have moved beyond the ‘box ticking’ stage. What was once little more than a PR exercise of balancing numbers and headcount quotas has become serious business for corporates looking to transform their company culture.
True D&I requires action not analysis and efforts need to be redoubled as progress, so far, has been slow. This sentiment was echoed by minister of employment, Alok Sharma, at the recent Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Diversity and Inclusion Conference. Sharma addressed some of the UK’s leading employers at the conference and discussed the government’s initiatives to support disadvantaged groups into work and support greater diversity.
In his speech Sharma explained: “All of us recognise that a more diverse workforce makes for a more productive workforce. Ensuring that people from any background, any gender, ethnicity or age, have the opportunity of a good career, that no profession is closed off, benefits all of us. It is not just a social justice imperative. It is a key ingredient for business success. In my view the future is bleak for any employer whose employees do not look like, sound like or think like their customer base…The very fact that we’re having this conference shows we all recognise there is still more to be done.”
Sharma addressed many of the key diversity challenges facing today’s businesses, discussing issues surrounding ethnic minorities, older workers, disabled people and women. Sharma said: “There is still a big difference between the employment prospects and average earnings of men and women…We can all see where the gaps still exist and where action is needed. Many people are out of work due to caring for children or other family members. Of those, nearly 90% are women. By the time their first child reaches 12, an average mother’s hourly wages are a third below the father’s.”
While gender disparity is only one element in the battle for greater D&I in the workplace, it is the area we have followed most closely as we prepare to launch our first Women in Business Expo. What’s encouraging for us is the number of companies we have spoken to who are truly committed to making significant and long-lasting changes throughout their businesses. Many of the bigger companies have dedicated D&I teams led by forward-thinking managers with initiatives on everything from socio-economic and ethnic diversity to policies for LGBT employees and creating more inclusive environments for disabled staff. Schemes to tackle the gender imbalance include Returnship Programmes, ideal for Mums looking for refresher training in specific sectors to take them back into the world of work.
We have been overwhelmed by the level of support we have had from corporates in the run to WIB Expo 2019, which takes place in Farnborough in October. Many of our key partners, sponsors and exhibitors are determined to improve diversity and inclusion across all levels of their organisations. Their interest in the event is not down to their marketing strategies. It stems from a genuine desire to meet with visitors and offer recruitment opportunities to the thousands of professional ABC1 women who are expected to attend.
D&I efforts will only work when they are integrated into the core of an organisation’s strategy. Every employer has to be accountable and focus on taking positive action that will pave the way to a more inclusive culture. Supporting events like WIB Expo may seem like a small step, but it could also be a catalyst for change within a company. At the end of the day, businesses can’t lose sight of the long-term aim - which is about creating workforces that better reflect the diverse nation we live in. If the effects of having greater D&I happens to contribute to a rise in profits, then it will be a win-win situation for every company committed to change.