The key steps to creating a diverse and inclusive culture

A Frazer Jones Chronicle article: The Talent & Culture Series: Published October 2015

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are increasingly accepted as fundamental business necessities in today’s employment market. Organisations recognise that their potential to achieve better business results and attract and retain the best talent is increased when people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives are able to be themselves and are included in the decision-making.


However, many organisations continue to struggle with how to effectively implement a robust diversity and inclusion agenda and embed it into all aspects of their business plan, including their talent proposition. Without this, at best, company’s efforts can be seen as ‘a good attempt at addressing the issue’ and at worst can be seen as tokenistic.

Recent research conducted in London in 2014 on behalf of the Late Lord Mayor of London, Dame Fiona Woolf, found that company’s actions were not hitting the mark:

• 84% of City workers surveyed stated that their company had commitment from the top to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce

• 27% felt that they were under any pressure to support the delivery of creating an inclusive work environment

• Only 15% stated that the actions of their leaders mirrored their spoken commitment to diversity and inclusion

• 87% felt that the strategies within their company had no impact on them personally

The research demonstrated a very clear disconnect between the commitment from senior leaders and what was actually seen and experienced by employees at many different levels. The key to any progress is to understand this disconnect and deliver clear actions that help to reduce it. The following 10 steps are a guideline to enable companies to review their current activity and identify areas where further work may be required.

Step 1: Review your business plan
Before implementing a strategy to help improve the effectiveness of organisations by building on the benefits of inclusion and diversity, it is really important to first understand what the company vision and business strategy is. Any activity focusing on creating a more diverse and inclusive company should be able to articulate how it will support the business to deliver their business strategy and their talent aspirations. It is important to recognise that no two diversity and inclusion strategies are alike. It is useful to collaborate with other companies and research good practice in the industry; however, these are good examples of what you might do rather than what you must do.


Step 2: What are your people saying?

Having reviewed your business plan, the next step involves really finding out what is going on inside the company. To achieve this you need to ask a lot of questions at all levels of the company to find out what it’s like to work here. This can be achieved through employee opinion surveys, focus groups, chance conversations in the corridor, or even listening to what people are saying in the cafeteria or by the water cooler.

Step 3: Review current systems and processes

Once you have gained a good idea of what it feels like for different people to work here, start to think about what you are doing in their business that could either help or hinder this by reviewing practices and processes. For example, do you have a recruitment process that states regardless of role all employees are expected to be qualified to university level? If so, that changes the dynamics of the talent pool that you can actually recruit into your company. Is that appropriate for your business?

Step 4: Create a plan and impact measures

Having pinpointed the areas of focus, many companies create initiatives in an attempt to rectify an existing situation. Instead, organisations should create a robust change management system that ensures impact measures are created and sustainable progress is made.

Step 5: Be clear about your talent requirements

Recruiting talent into an organisation will have a significant impact on the diversity of the company. Working in partnership with recruitment and search companies is vital to ensure they are clear about your business aspirations and how they can help you achieve that.

Step 6: Continue to widen your talent pool

Work closely with recruitment and search companies to ensure that you are not inadvertently narrowing your talent pool. For example, a finance director does not necessarily need to have been a finance director in the past. Such a stipulation shrinks the market and potentially produces the same type of candidate that you have always had. Instead, think innovatively about the skills required and where else that could be sourced.


Step 7: Managing and leading a diverse workforce

Few companies talk about the risk of increased conflict within diverse groups. Naturally, as people think very differently there will be more debate, disagreement and, potentially, conflict. This can be a challenge for some managers and leaders who are not particularly comfortable dealing with conflict or challenge. Ensure that managers are supported in managing and leading diverse teams, how to get the best out of the talent around them and how to respond to conflict.

Step 8: Diversity and inclusion working in tandem

It is one thing to be inclusive, but it’s another to be diverse. The two must work together to be effective and to truly reap the rewards. Ensure your focus covers both elements to gain the greatest benefits.
Step 9: Remember an elephant is eaten one bite at a time

Companies start out with great intentions, a huge amount of commitment and an initial flurry of activity. Nine months down the line they then realise there is a lot to do, they haven’t thought it through properly, and therefore abandon the project. Be clear from the outset that this isn’t a 12-month plan and all will be completed. It must involve continuous improvement so that as an organisation you are constantly looking at what’s happening in the business and thinking about how to constantly improve upon it.

Step 10: Involve everyone

Companies also assume that the sole drive for creating the right culture has to come from the chief executive or senior leadership team. Without question, their engagement and commitment is important, just as it is for any change. However, everybody can influence the culture, at every level, from the respect they give their colleagues, to the behaviours they display to clients and the decisions they make every day. Ensure that your strategy includes the appropriate engagement of all colleagues and clearly articulates the part they play within creating a more diverse and inclusive company.

Creating a more diverse and inclusive company isn’t easy, but it also isn’t rocket science. Working through the above steps will ensure you are on track to create the right strategy for your company that responds to both your business requirements and your talent aspirations for the future.

about charlotte sweeney

Charlotte worked for Blue Chip companies in the Financial Services sector for 25 years (Barclays, Barclays Capital, HBOS and Nomura International) before creating her own consultancy. Charlotte has specialised in large-scale change programmes with a focus on diversity, inclusion, engagement and wellbeing for over 15 years. Over the years Charlotte has won many awards, including from Harvard, for her work in the Diversity and Inclusion field and was recognised by TIAW for advancing the economic empowerment of women.

Charlotte is a Non-Executive Director at the Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust in the UK. She conducted an independent review on the Voluntary Code for Executive Search firms in relation to getting more women onto boards for the UK Secretary of State Dr Vince Cable, which is now referred to as “The Sweeney Report”. She is Vice-Chair of the Dept of Business, Innovation and Skills external Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Panel and is leading the City of London’s Diversity Programme “The Power of Diversity” on behalf of the Late Lord Mayor of London Dame Fiona Woolf CBE, collaborating with over 70 companies.