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DE&I: Progress reality check

Do you think the number of leadership positions held by minorities is increasing?

We asked this question in a poll ahead of our event on how to accelerate the careers of minority groups.

The answer? 53% said no, 47% said yes.

To frame this, 88% of organisations cited DE&I as a priority, and 83% have initiatives in place already.

So what’s going on?

We put the question to Janet Tidmarsh, Head of Inclusion & Development at Whitbread, who said: “I have a few thoughts on this. First of all, it’s great to hear that a lot of business are prioritising DE&I because I think if you asked the question five years ago, we wouldn’t have got the 88% agreeing it is a priority. I think there is a lot of ground work happening around inclusion which might be causing a time lag. The retention and experience of minority groups is really important as a foundation in this work, so to go straight into improving diversity, at any level, as your first strategy would not be what I advise. All you’re going to do is churn people if you don’t understand why the experience isn’t as good as for majority colleagues. That might be part of the reason why there is a time lag, because if organisations are doing the ground work around inclusion – thinking about their policy work, listening to their colleagues, why they’re choosing to stay, the barriers they’re facing – perhaps diversity isn’t being driven straight away.”

However, she wouldn’t attribute all of it to that alone. “There is more businesses need to do. Businesses are choosing to buy talent from minority groups, particularly at a senior level, and with that strategy you have a lot of businesses looking for the same people as part of their positive action, rather than building their own talent. We all need to be appreciating the value of people from different backgrounds. And there is evidence to show that we are making some progress, whether we look at some of the government reports around gender, the Parker review that shows 96% out of the FTSE100 met the 1 by 21 target for example, there is progress there, but not as much as we would like to see.”

What we have to do if we’re going to shift the dial is to face into some of the ugly truths, and acknowledge the elephants in the room. We asked Sangita Clarke, Global Diversity Leadership Specialist at Bloomberg, what those might be.

“I think the first thing is around the environment. Some organisations focus on the ‘D’ of DE&I but the environment is super important to ensure that as organisations bring in the diverse talent, that talent is able to be engaged, developed and advanced.

Another one comes down to the data. Sometimes we see organisations hide behind the data. I’ll often hear people saying ‘we’ve recruited x% of diverse talent’ or ‘our overall stats show we have x% of female or black employees’ etc. But when you dig deeper into that data, diverse talent sits at a certain part of the organisation, often lower in the organisation. So for me, we also need make sure that we’re looking at where that talent sits as part of the measurement piece – but also how we’re growing that talent as well, and thinking about the long term strategy to do this.

We also have to consider leader accountability. We find ourselves with these great initiatives and pat ourselves on the back, but there’s only really two hands to clap. For us to make progress around representation of diverse talent, we need to make sure that leaders play a role and that piece is crucial”.

That’s where we can step in. We don’t claim to be experts in DE&I, but we are experts in creating real behavioural change and helping leaders to take 100% ownership for their impact. We all have bias, and leaders in our organisations need to be aware of theirs and in many cases, their privilege. Our leaders are responsible for spotting talent, giving performance ratings and recommending people for promotions. They can have a huge impact on the ability of diverse talent to progress – so it’s critical they get the right development, at the right time.

And when it comes to developing diverse talent, our learning is delivered by coaches with deep expertise in supporting specific underrepresented populations, including Women in Leadership and ethnic minorities.

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