The value of diversity

5 min read

As part of National Inclusion Week 2019, Mace hosted a panel event exploring the value of diversity in business and how we can help to promote it.

We heard from guest speakers from major UK organisations like Network Rail and ITV, alongside Tan Dhesi, MP for Slough, and Dr Jaweeda Idoo, a GP with practical experience of building a diverse healthcare organisation.

Find out from Mace’s Group Human Resources Director, Carol Hosey, what we can all do to drive diversity and inclusion across our organisations – and listen to our podcast of the session:

All too often, diversity and inclusion aren’t seen as crucial to the ongoing performance and success of organisations. In reality, research tells us *that diverse organisations are much more likely to do better financially than those that aren’t diverse – and it should be obvious that being able to draw on a wide range of experiences and viewpoints should help an organisation to be more innovative and successful – and a more interesting and inclusive place to work

This is a particular issue in the construction sector, which has a reputation for not being diverse and failing to encourage inclusive working environments. As an industry, I believe that we lose out on a huge amount of talent because people don’t think that construction is somewhere that values the contribution that women or other minority groups can make.

In order to change that, we need to go beyond easy slogans and we need to drive real culture change across companies and organisations. That’s not going to be easy – but we’re already making progress. At Mace we’ve been working hard to ensure that our intake of new graduates and apprenticeships is as diverse as possible, are in the process of introducing a number of key new policies and our inclusion networks – like Pride at Mace and the Ethnic Diversity Inclusion Network (EDIN) – are going from strength to strength.

At our panel event, we heard from a number of excellent speakers, each of whom brought a different perspective to the table about recognising the value diversity can bring to an organisation. Below, I’ve identified the four key priorities that I took from the evening:

Leadership is vital

Without clear leadership from the board and senior stakeholders, it will quickly become apparent to everyone in an organisation that a push for diversity isn’t authentic.

Diversity and inclusion needs to be something that is ‘baked in’ across the senior leadership team in order to ensure that people feel like genuine change is taking place. If the Chief Executive says one thing, but the senior leadership across a business do something else, then people will feel that the organisation isn’t ‘walking the walk’.

As well as ensuring that policies are enforced, board members and senior directors can play an active role in diversity and inclusion groups and ensure that they are able to make a real impact. That could mean anything from being a sounding board, attending networking events or marching with the Pride network – but most importantly, it means being a supportive ambassador for positive change.

However, a focus on leadership shouldn’t detract from the fact that everyone in the organisation has a responsibility to lead on the agenda, regardless of seniority.

You need a strategy to effect real change

Without a strategy in place, it is very difficult to make any real progress – you can’t drive change without first establishing what you’re trying to change and how you measure it. For many organisations, the process of agreeing a strategy is challenging. It requires organisations to come to terms with difficult attitudes and expectations about their current performance on diversity and where they need to get to.

At Mace, we have an Inclusion vision and strategy which sets out what we want to achieve and how we plan to get there. We have rolled out mandatory unconscious bias training across the entire organisation, which started with our board, and we are now tracking our performance against that objective. That can be tough, as it forces people to confront their inherent prejudices – but it makes a real impact on behaviour.

Once a strategy has been agreed, it needs to have buy-in from across the organisation. It can’t just be a piece of paper. People need to feel that the strategy is making tangible differences to their day to day experience in the organisation.

Culture can eat strategy for breakfast

Having a strategy in place is crucial – but unless it addresses long-standing organisation culture issues it won’t be effective. This means that the organisation has to really recognise the things that are holding it back from becoming genuinely diverse.

Organisational culture is driven by the values and behaviours of its people. Alongside a strategy for improving diversity, there needs to be a focus on eliminating negative behaviours. At Mace, we’re doing that through our ‘Behaviours for Success’ framework, which identifies the behaviours and values we want to see across Mace. One of the behaviours is to ‘Act inclusively’ as this is a fundamental part of us creating an inclusive culture.

Again, leadership from the top is key here. You can’t change a culture by telling people to behave differently – you need to show that authentic change is taking place, and that means that the board and senior directors need to lead from the front and make that a reality.

Everyone can be someone’s ally

One of the topics that came up on the panel was how impactful allies could be in promoting diversity and helping inclusion networks to make positive change. This can range from allies helping arrange logistics of events, to more strategic support in using their leverage to help address challenging culture issues.

One compelling suggestion was that people who are members of minority groups can ensure that they are acting as allies for other groups as well. That really resonated with me. Too often we see the world through a particular lens, and it is helpful to be able to view the world through someone else’s perspective and help to influence an organisation in a positive way.

*McKinsey's 2018 research found that diversity has the most obvious impact on financial performance when it is found in executive teams and roles that are directly in charge of generating revenue.

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