Opportunities for all

A commitment to diversity is far more than just a legal obligation in the global age

Opportunities for all

“I could be wrong, but I believe diversity is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.” While Will Ferrell’s fictional portrayal of eccentric news reporter Ron Burgundy in cult American comedy Anchorman is more entertaining than educational, this one line resonates quite strongly when it comes to contemporary debates about diversity. Of course, this is by no means to suggest that the modern business owner is oblivious to the importance of having a diverse workforce. However, Burgundy’s ignorant assumption does at least help frame a discussion about why an in-built ‘diversity culture’ is nigh-on essential for any forward-thinking company in this day and age.

“Diversity is about the potential that organisations can tap into to add value to the way they do things,” says Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at HR and development professional body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “Unless organisations are prepared to look at the ways in which they can access different views and ideas by having a more diverse workforce, they are going to miss the ways that they can connect better with diverse customer bases.”

Indeed, with traditional international borders having been broken down to an unprecedented degree over the course of the last decade, it is little surprise that companies now comprise of people from a whole host of nations, religious groups and socio-economic backgrounds. Nevertheless, it seems there is still work to do, not least when it comes to convincing a firm’s top brass that a recruitment policy that is ‘inclusive of all’ is not merely a legal requirement that needs to be fulfilled. “It is important to continue to keep alert to this changing issue of diversity and not get sucked into that attitude of ‘gosh, I must make sure that I don’t break the law’,” comments Worman. “Obviously, you will be in a mess if you break the law, but the law is there because it makes a great deal of sense to have some provisions so that people have better access to jobs and training opportunities, as businesses may be pretty sloppy at accessing it themselves.”

That said, there have been considerable signs of improvement, with many enterprises recognising the competitive advantage a diversity of talent can present. “There are certain industries where clearly organisations are doing a lot to market themselves to diverse talent pools,” says Kathryn Nawrockyi, acting director for Opportunity Now, the gender campaign at business charity Business In The Community. “There are lots of organisations out there, whether they are networks, movements, charities or consultancies really trying to move this agenda forward and I think that wave of consciousness has really helped things. That is really heartening and it is good to see the greater leadership on the issue more generally, and a real understanding of the business case for diversity.”

There can be absolutely no doubt of course that employing from a multitude of backgrounds has its perks, given the globalised market within which business is generally conducted in the 21st century. “People from different backgrounds, different experiences and different cultures look at issues and challenges in a very different way,” says André Flemmings, manager of banking and finance programmes for specialist diversity recruitment firm Rare Recruitment. “The companies that have a whole range of ideas are much stronger because there is a richer pool to draw from in terms of what you do and what solutions you bring to clients. These ideas will obviously feed into the business goals of the company, and it might impair your growth eventually if you don’t have them.”

Flemmings also raises another interesting point that is as relevant as ever to an internationally minded SME. “From a superficial point of view, people tend to like to buy things from people who look a bit like them,” he says. “It is a really small thing but there is that element of ‘I can relate to that person on some other level’, and having that really makes the world of difference, particularly if you are going abroad for the first time and you are an unknown quantity. There needs to be something almost tangible that somebody can relate to.”

So far as there is an opportunity for an SME to tap into the diverse array of talent on offer, the difficulty lies in how precisely to go about this. Suffice to say, many start-ups bemoan the lack of resources at their disposal when it comes to marketing job opportunities through as many channels as possible. “For an SME, it is slightly more challenging because you don’t have that kind of money and you don’t have that kind of reach but I still think there is a lot that businesses of that size and nature can actually do,” suggests Flemmings.

“If you are looking for people from particular demographics, you can do open days, you can have mentoring sessions with a small group, and you can maybe target a couple of universities, and then really develop the talent and abilities of people that you see as having potential.”

Moreover, Flemmings naturally explains that organisations such as Rare are there for a reason. “When you are dealing with people and individuals who come from a different culture and you are seeking to get the best people, there is no harm in getting some advice on that,” he says. “Never drop standards or compromise on your values in order to bring these people in but actually work harder, as it were, to find those people and maybe understand them.”

A rigorous and transparent application process can also help lay the groundwork for a strong ‘diversity culture’, not least because it has the potential to unearth the calibre of candidate that may have otherwise been missed. “I think that any application process, whether it is a large or small company, should be focused on recognising potential rather than just taking polish,” says Flemmings. “Looking at the achievements of the candidates, you want to look at ‘how have they got to this point?’. Take it a little bit deeper than face value and what is on a CV, because a CV isn’t what a person is.”

This extends to the interview stage as well, but there has been solid progress in this area over the last few years. “We are seeing really positive trends among Opportunity Now members or organisations that are mandating unconscious bias training for their interviewer population and seeing vastly improved diversity entering the workforce, which is great,” says Nawrockyi. And Flemmings adds: “Having that unconscious bias training is really important because otherwise people may be inclined to somebody who has done the same things as them or is from the same town as them.”

Obviously, the end goal for any business is to employ the person who is best for the job and, depending on the nature of a venture, the definition of this will vary greatly. However, it certainly pays to look beyond cultural stereotypes nowadays. Casper Craven, co-founder and director of customer intelligence consultancy Trovus, can certainly speak from experience, with his 11-strong team currently spanning nine different nationalities. He says, “I think, very simply, to grow a business rapidly, you need the very finest talent you can get, and you need to be very open-minded about where that talent comes from, and I think our experience is that talent has come from outside the UK.” This is no slight on Blighty, of course, but simply a sure-fire sign that times are a-changin’. Suffice to say, our start-ups are better placed than anyone to take advantage of this transition.


A people’s business

A commitment to diversity is embedded in the business model of professional services firm KPMG. “Our vision is to transform our business and to dominate the professional services arena,” explains Nina Amin, tax partner and head of Asian Markets for the company. “To do that, we need a diversity of talent, as do our clients, and so what we are doing is working really hard to develop and promote diversity because if we want to recruit, develop and retain the most talented people then we have to create an environment where difference is valued.”

KPMG delivers its diversity agenda first by fostering a culture of inclusion, and secondly through its recruitment policies. “We have a value-based charter and everyone at KPMG has to live and breathe these values,” says Amin. “Everyone needs to feel valued, and needs to feel included, and our partner group as well as our people management teams are absolutely committed to creating a culture of inclusion in KPMG.” The firm’s school leavers’ scheme allows young people from all backgrounds to benefit from a university education that they may not have otherwise been able to afford, while giving them the opportunity to work for a globally established company.

A strong community focus also has a part to play, according to Amin. “We are a people’s business and we live in a country that is itself becoming increasingly diverse,” she says. “People buy from people, so, by matching the people within KPMG who are the best fit for the business community we want to do business with, we ensure that KPMG and our clients benefit.” And as a worthy footnote, Amin was recently awarded an MBE for her services to the Asian Business Community. 

Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod

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