The Diversity Agenda - The best of all talents

Initiatives to re-boot diversity commitments will require HR to answer challenging questions, says Michael Illert.

Many of the arguments made about diverse workforces rightly focus on fairness and equality. Notwithstanding this for most HR professionals responsible for championing diversity (and in some organisations, that’s everyone in HR), business cases built around tangible factors such as client engagement and talent attraction are more likely to enjoy a favourable reception from senior management and line managers. While the global economic recovery remains patchy and uncertain, it’s even more crucial that advocates of diversity pay proper regard to the priorities of those in the business they want to bring around to their way of thinking.

Good for business: selling the benefits

At Frazer Jones, when we’re appointed to identify heads of diversity for our clients, or when diversity features in job descriptions, we invariably look for answers to a number of key questions which might well be posed to the successful appointee by those senior and line managers:

  • Competitive advantage: How will diversity help us to edge ahead in our industry sector? What specific examples can you give me?
  • Innovation: If innovation is at the heart of our service or product offering, how will diversity impact on our ability to generate new ideas and encourage fresh thinking amongst our workforce?
  • Talent management: How will diversity commitments and actions help me to attract and retain talent for my team? And how do they impact on our profile as an employer of choice?
  • Client engagement: What do positive diversity activities mean for my relationships with key clients? How can you be certain that what we say and do about diversity will make a genuine difference to them?
  • Risk mitigation: What are the risks you claim may be associated with simply paying lip service to diversity, or ignoring it altogether?
  • Brand enhancement: How will diversity improve our image and profile? And how would it fit in with our corporate social responsibility agenda?
  • Room at the top: closing gender gaps in the boardroom

For many of today’s HR directors and senior HR managers, the diversity agenda represents an opportunity to act in a business-partnering capacity. But for others, it’s a tricky path to navigate, even when the business case is compelling. If there are no self-imposed diversity ‘rules’ within organisations (beyond compliance with legislation), simply putting forward suggestions for promoting diversity best practice can generate negative feedback or be met with a wall of silence.

Clients of Frazer Jones frequently debate the pros and cons of introducing gender quotas as a way to achieve a greater balance between men and women in the boardroom.

Yet even in countries where legislation already demands that employers ensure they have minimum proportions of women in senior management, critics believe the connection between diversity and various desired outcomes (such as sales, profitability or investor confidence) is at best tenuous, at worst non-existent.

Today, HR leaders advising senior management on diversity issues - many of them for the first time since the onset of recession - would do well to look for inspiration in those organisations which kept diversity firmly on the agenda, even when things are against you. As competition for good people hots up, no-one can afford to overlook under-represented talent pools.