The Case For Diversity and Inclusion – Leadership Perception Verses Reality

In part two of our Diversity and Inclusion series, we look at how conscious positive action is making a difference in workplace culture, the often overlooked disparity between perceived improvement and actual experience from employee and employer perspectives, and what steps can be taken to address this.

As the emphasis on fairness and equality are rightly prioritised across our organisational structures, the drive to adapt and reform workplace culture is taking ever bigger precedence. On top of the morality aspect, robust research continues to show organisational productivity, profit, retention and reputation are all directly affected by a diverse and inclusive culture, and this impact is not going unnoticed at a strategic level (The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming, World Economic Forum). In essence, equality = growth.

Perception Verses Reality

There is no question organisational growth should not be the predominately underlying factor regarding responsible policy and practice; however, it neatly presents the point that fairness and equality of each individual are very important to the success of the whole. Despite this energetic drive to show our organisations are embracing D&I, there is still a concerning disparity between what organisational leaders believe to be a diverse and inclusive culture, and what is often actually experienced by its employees. According to recent research conducted by Accenture, two thirds of organisational leaders (68%) believed they create empowering environments in which employees can be themselves, raise concerns and innovate without fear of failure, however, just one third (36 percent) of employees agreed. This is an unsettling statistic and brings to light the inconsistency between strategy, meaningful communication, successful execution of fit for purpose D & I strategy, and the impact it has on those its purpose is designed to benefit.

I asked Sandra Sanglin, Independent Coach and Consultant and former Head of Corporate Responsibility at Clarion Housing Group, about her own experiences regarding D&I strategy and implementation, how she believes leadership behaviours and perceptions influence organisational culture, and what are some of the key elements in getting it right.

We are seeing a gap in leadership perceptions and communication regarding D&I policy and actual experience on the front line. Why, in your opinion, is it important to ensure meaningful diversity and inclusion is at the heart of leadership and personal development strategy in the workplace?

“In my experience of engaging with Diversity and Inclusion both as a consultant level and in-house, I have witnessed with my own eyes the difference between simply vocalising implementation and actualisation of successful culture change. Having been on both sides of the coin I have seen huge benefit in taking the time to get it right, such as observing people from diverse backgrounds grow and flourish as they accessed and were actively supported in opportunities that might have otherwise been closed to them. Getting organisational culture changes right also results in more inclusive and more welcoming environments for minority voices, making the organisation as a whole more effective. When there is a deeper understanding from senior management teams of how to embed meaningful diversity and inclusion this results in their organisations being more strategically successful, as well as stereotypes being actively challenged and negated.”

How have you managed to integrate diversity and inclusion into organisational culture successfully? Can you share any examples?

“I have long been an advocate of approaching D&I from the perspective of transforming organisational cultures, rather than just from a compliance point of view, and have had the opportunity to not only to share this knowledge but also to put it into practice. I believe some of the important steps in successfully embedding D&I into an organisational culture include:

  • being clear about the diversity disparity you have within your organisation
  • finding out what your diverse audiences think are the challenges and opportunities (not just guessing)
  • putting in place changes that allow minority staff to have a voice, e.g. through staff networks
  • harnessing individual differences to benefit the organisation by regarding them as assets rather than liabilities
  • allowing space to celebrate personal differences such as religious and cultural holidays, for example, through food, dress or other means”

In your experience have there been any obvious challenges/roadblocks externally and or internally that have stood in the way of organisations achieving their aims?

“Often organisations haven’t got clear data about their diversity, nor are they clear about what their staff really think. That makes it hard to create an inclusive culture when you don’t really know what you’re dealing with, nor how to go about engaging with staff from minority backgrounds.

The path is made easier by ensuring that the leadership teams are fully on board with the business case for diversity and have really considered and understood how D&I benefits their organisation. What follows is a clear mandate to put in place comprehensive D&I strategy that addresses some of the areas that need to be changed.”

What, if any, examples have you experienced of conscious or unconscious bias, and how has this translated into meaningful behavioural change?

“When you witness who progresses in organisations and who doesn’t, the stark contrast raises clear questions about the role that bias (whether conscious or unconscious) plays in decision-making. It is essential that recruiting and managerial staff are trained in uncovering their own biases and how to avoid those biases entering into their decision-making. I’ve heard people say that appointments are ‘risky’. To tell you the truth, every appointment is ‘risky’ in a sense, in that people from any background contain an element of the unknown about them. ‘Risky’ is just code for ‘not like me’!”

Do you have advice you can give to others who may be struggling with diversity and inclusion perception and practice within their organisation?

“One of the common issues with regard to recruitment and progression is that people from diverse backgrounds simply don’t apply. I think positive action is a useful tool in addressing this problem. Whether that’s introducing outreach programmes that go out and meet the community and invite them in, or setting up targeted personal development programmes to help minority groups build their confidence; at heart of positive action is a willingness to be open, to listen, to understand, to be inclusive and to do something concrete to make changes.”

Addressing Root Issues

In order for D&I strategy and policy to be fit for purpose, it’s clear we need to start at the very roots of the attraction and recruitment process. There should be a conscious effort to attract and hire from outside the existing organisational ‘bubbles’ we are not just seeking to hire those who look and behave like ourselves, and this includes the language used in advertising, job description and tangible opportunities. In this way we are opening the door to new creative, innovative and individual mindsets that can help to shape and drive future growth. Once through the door, there should be clear consistent and continuous communication between organisational leaders and employees (potential future leaders) actual requirements, concerns and perceptions. Without this joined up approach we may be only giving lip service to our strategies and policies, which have the potential to be the catalyst for future organisational success.

With special thanks to Sandra Sanglin for her contribution to this article.

For more insights into Leadership, Performance and Change Management, Diversity & Inclusion and other current housing industry topics join us on our Insights page or follow us across social media to see the latest news and updates.

Alma Sheren is Head of Marketing and Communications for Greenacre Recruitment, and collaborates with the team and wider network on Leadership, Human Resources, Change Management issues and the challenges and transitions currently facing the UK housing sector.

Leave a Comment

Greenacre Recruitment are corporate members of the REC (Recruitment and Employment Confederation) and operate within its code of professional practice, adhering to the highest standards of recruitment professionalism.

Greenacre Recruitment are a recognised ‘Disability Confident’ employer, and we believe diversity drives innovation. We are committed to ensuring our recruitment processes are inclusive and accessible to all.