We invited Dr John Whittle – sociologist, gender expert and senior researcher at diversity and inclusion specialist consultancy, Versiti – to host a ‘learning lunch’ at Futureheads HQ on the topic of diversity in recruitment, in digital and in society at large.

While ‘diversity’ is considered by some to be just another buzzword, the reality is that this concept is becoming ever more important in society – and businesses need to catch up.

Consider these statistics from this recent report from McKinsey on the business case for diversity:

  • Companies in the top 25% for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
  • Companies in the top 25% for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
  • Companies in the bottom 25% for both gender and for racial and ethnic diversity are significantly more likely to lag behind the rest.
  • In the UK, greater gender diversity on a senior-executive team increases success: for every 10 percent increase in gender diversity, earnings before interests and taxes (EBIT) rose by 3.5 percent.

Diversity is a competitive differentiator – and it shifts market share toward more diverse companies.

In short? Diversity in business isn’t just great morally, it’s also great financially.

In spite of this, said John, there are too many companies still treating diversity as a PR exercise – or worse doing just enough to comply with equality law.

The result is this…

But consumer demographics are changing, on the local and global scale. We are mixing with a wider variety of people – and products and services must adapt to reach new people with new needs. Businesses need to employ agile thought, powered by lived experience, to reach these groups effectively.

Diverse groups can be incredibly innovative, said John, because they historically have had to make more out of less. To explain this idea in more detail, John used the example of on-demand television, which opens up thousands and thousands of options for entertainment – but all too often, we are overwhelmed by choice and settle in to watch the same boxset we've already seen and often complain of being bored. But when there are only limited options for entertainment, people are much more likely to explore new things and use a bit of imagination to entertain themselves.

A diverse business can spot opportunities others miss. For example, research found that drinks businesses had a huge missed market for non-alcoholic beer: young multicultural Muslim men, who want to go down the pub with their friends while staying true to their faith. But you can’t just pay lip service to diversity – as Tesco did with its recent ‘turkey for everyone’ campaign, despite not having a halal option.

Much of the resistance to change is from what John calls ‘male, pale and stale’ groups, who fear they will be displaced. But much of this fear comes from the fact they often are displaceable, “clocking in and coasting along”.

No one wants to work with mediocre colleagues, especially bright people – it's as simple as that. Businesses simply can’t afford to maintain a mediocre workforce.

John explained that modern businesses need a diversity of thought. We humans are very good at creating bubbles around us, surrounding ourselves with people who think like us. See social media – we block dissenting views and only see the opinions we like and are then surprised when 'shock events' like Brexit, Trump being elected and so on happen. We are in danger of losing our ability to engage with other opinions as we retreat into the comfort of those who think like us.

By contrast, having a diverse mindset means being able to see others’ points of view, even if you don’t agree with them. To focus these skills, John suggested we should all read three things every day that we disagree with, challenging us to control our angry reactions and try to understand why the author or commentator has this opinion.  

John believes people are losing their critical thinking powers. Basic questions such as “Where does this come from?” and “Why was it written?” are often overlooked. With easy content available for us, our brains take shortcuts and make assumptions, or just shut off if it's not what we wanted to read.

This is particularly relevant to business relationships – especially if there’s a point of difference. By taking the time to reflect on the challenges the other person has, what they are thinking, and what their goals are, you can unpack their viewpoint and work more constructively.

Though, as John pointed out, it’s much easier to talk about than to do!

He talked about the role of early socialisation. Many men, for example, are raised in a culture that expects direct behaviour that is focused on a binary win or lose mentality. When stressed, their default emotion is often anger, which can be hard to manage. On the other hand, many women are raised to be demure and restrained – which can make direct confrontation challenging.

It’s a very complex issue, but for business leaders, the key is taking the time to understand the challenges diversity brings so that diversity isn’t just PR, it adds real value and is an integral part of a company’s make up. It’s no good recruiting a more ‘diverse’ team if they all leave quickly.

In answer to a question about measuring a diverse mindset, John said companies could develop their own tangible metrics for efficiency and happiness, such as numbers of flexi-hours to support working mums. Other food for thought included working on inclusive job adverts – something we’re looking at here at Futureheads – which avoid gendered words, and inclusive interview processes (not just an inclusive shortlist). Here are some more strategies you can employ to make your recruitment process more inclusive.  

All companies should ask themselves honestly whether they are open to taking a risk by hiring someone with a non-traditional background. If the answer is no, then they should ask themselves why? Ask questions, check assumptions, work together and it will benefit your business.

Here at Futureheads, we're committed to educating our clients on the advantages of a diverse workforce, and supporting them in adopting the shifts in mindset needed.

If you're interested in discussing diversity and recruitment in more detail, say hello at be@wearefutureheads.co.uk.

Be Kaler Pilgrim



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2-7 Clerkenwell Green

UK +44 (0)203 319 4720

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