The 21st Century business imperative

By Dianah Worman OBE, CIPD Diversity Adviser

High noise levels about the improved numbers of women on boards provides a timely opportunity to press home the message that progressing diversity and inclusion isn’t just about making things easier for ambitious women to get a fair share of the numbers of top jobs in business.

The progress we have made in the UK since Lord Davies set his agenda for private companies to take the lead in improving the numbers of women working at this level 4 years ago is impressive. Nevertheless, this voluntary target – now almost achieved – is not ambitious enough in the CIPD’s view. Our call is for a 40% figure, including a 20% figure for the composition of executive board appointments.  We feel this clarity is pivotal as progress to date has concentrated at the non-executive board level, and been unimpressive regarding the real positions of power. More pressure for change at the pinnacle of business is imperative to shift the lack of inclusion where the snowy peaks persist.

Notwithstanding the threat of legislation across the European Union to make the achievement of a 40% gender balance compulsory, there are overriding business imperatives to move forward more quickly.

Increasing hard evidence from organisations themselves makes the link between enhanced business performance and diversity more transparent. It suggests that companies with a better gender balance at board level outperform those without, thereby presenting a strong business case for improving gender diversity.

But benefiting from diversity cannot be achieved by playing with numbers. In fact, superficial change on this basis can be counterproductive, in that it sets expectations that trigger backlash when they fail to make a real and sustainable difference.

Simply being more diverse is not the answer. It is essential to both embrace and value diversity by developing inclusive cultures which do not compromise peoples’ identities in ways that reduce their involvement and engagement with their jobs and teams, and the customers and clients they deal with. This requires systemic change and cannot be achieved overnight. It means checking out what we do, why we do it and how we do it in order to improve the impact we can have.

The starting point – as we have long promoted – is to recognise that everyone is a unique individual made up of a complex combination of personal characteristics and experiences.  It is this uniqueness that can provide rich insights about the true nature of the world we all live in, and stimulate creativity and innovation to make it a better and more productive place for all of us.

So, as this week of celebration for diversity and inclusion marks the calendar at CIPD, organisations should stop seeing difference as a cost and compliance-based problem, and start to think of it as a competitive business asset. Bring it on and build on the success beginning to surface from enabling female talent to progress. But remember the agenda is not just about women. It’s about all of us.

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