Why diversity and inclusion are drivers for business growth

Leading firms discussed the diversity and inclusion strategies that are improving equity and business performance

The Top Employers Institute, the global authority on recognising excellence in people practices, recently held a UK conference about the links between effective diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices and business growth.

Phil Sproston, Region Manager UK and Ireland for Top Employers Institute introduced the conference by challenging the HR profession to become a “growth engine” for employers. But what did he mean by that?

According to the institute’s research among its certified organisations, diversity and inclusion have risen to 2nd among HR priorities, up from 4th place last year.

So what does good D&I practice look like?

Making change at all levels

In pursuit of business growth, the institute’s top employers have made changes to their D&I strategies at every level of their organisation, found the institute’s research.

These firms “consistently” train their leaders to act as role models in D&I and involve their employees in designing improvements.

The top employers interviewed also consistently introduced new strategies, such as employing those from disadvantaged backgrounds, creating disability disclosure programmes and LGBTQ+ networks, as well as other initiatives actively promoting D&I.

Research also revealed that work-life balance issues have risen to 2nd place in the priorities driving employee engagement, up from 10th a year before.

UK Top Employers have risen to the challenge here, with 86% giving staff greater flexibility in their work schedule to be more productive. 

Balancing remote and in-person working models

Arush Gupta, Head of HR European Region & Global Sales Organisation at Larsen & Toubro Infotech (LTI), said her firm arrived at the “Yin-Yang” model to enable the perfect balance of remote and in-person working to improve productivity. The model helps employees to:

  • Have greater flexibility to meet their personal needs.
  • Enhance learning through a culture of coaching and mentoring.
  • Collaboration through a mixture of in-person and virtual learning.

During the pandemic, they consulted 22,000 employees, covering 79% of the workforce, to see what was or wasn’t working, intending to improve productivity and business growth.

A work-life balance achieved through good wellbeing emerged as a core priority. Employees liked the organisation’s commitment to vaccinations and accurate and timely information during COVID-19, and the focus on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing was greatly appreciated. However, the future of childcare and eldercare once office work resumed was a source of concern.

Improving the employee experience

Damien Shieber, Head of Culture and Experience at Santander UK, explained the bank’s innovations around the employee experience in creating a more productive workforce.

He admitted that the war for talent had impacted the financial services sector, with the number of job applicants dropping by more than half (57%) in 2021. The sector was also struggling to attract candidates, with many seeking more social purpose.

As a result, Santander’s employee experience initiatives reflect the realities of the new bargain between employers and employees. Central to this has been a relentless focus on the individual’s everyday experience rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Is there enough drive and initiative in D&I?

A panel discussion – “Is D&I getting the Drive and Initiative it needs?” – was hosted by Ammara Naeem, Head of Client Success at Top Employers Institute. She explained that last year, the organisation’s research found that nearly all (96%) of Top employers in the UK had claimed that diversity and inclusion were a business imperative. However, only 40% had consistently provided needs-driven training on diversity and equal opportunity, while only 27% linked diversity and inclusion goals to compensation. 

The panel included Sandra Arnold, Regional Head of Learning at Group M for UK & EMEA, who talked about the media giant’s Visible Start programme, putting the drive back into D&I initiatives. The programme is for midlife women returning to the workplace after a spell away from the workforce. It gives them training in new skills and the confidence to go out and create new career opportunities.

Amanda Elkin, Organisational Development and Culture Manager at East Midlands Railway, spoke about the innovations that she had to introduce for a geographically spread out workforce and on the move during a working day.

For her, communicating diversity, equality and inclusion messages is made possible via short videos and communications rather than long modules and training days.

Mina Jesa, D&I lead at NHS Professionals, described their organisation’s learning platform, which includes a knowledge hub of diversity and inclusion alongside regular presentations from external speakers and safe spaces for staff to have important discussions and ask questions without fear or embarrassment.

The power of difference

Finally, Simon Fanshawe, OBE from Diversity by Design, gave a passionate speech about the power of difference in the workplace.

Diversity is key to the human experience because it is only through differences that employees can collaborate, he said.

What talent needs to agree on, he continued, is an organisation’s common aim – and then how they can work together to achieve it. D&I is all about opening up opportunities for talent to shine and overcoming blockages to that reality, he added, where firms can find the best solutions once the pipeline for opportunity is widened.

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