Faryn Pearson, Chief Innovation Officer, MasterStart

5 Ways companies can improve their inclusivity & diversity 

Recent news headlines, and frequent public faux pas, show that corporate South Africa has a long way to go to really action diversity and inclusivity in their organisations.

Diversity and inclusivity have become something of a cliché – boards and management teams talk about them, but how many actually look at them as something that should be measured? Or invested in?

In times of economy downturn, companies tend to hunker down and focus on revenue, margins and gross profit. This International Women’s Day, we’d like to suggest a few things companies can do to ensure diversity and inclusivity initiatives go beyond lip-service.

Before we start, a few key stats help to set the scene:

According to Pipeline’s 2020 ‘Women Count report, “Firms with more female executives ‘perform better’.” In fact, 10 times better. Research shows that London-listed companies were 10 times profitable when women made up more than one in three executive roles.

Ethnically diverse leadership teams are 36 percent more likely to be profitable, according to a McKinsey study.

Another McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for both gender and ethnic diversity are 12 percent more likely to outperform all other companies, so any investment should be returned through better business outcomes.

Here’s how businesses can do the right thing, and generate positive returns:

1. Get company buy-in

The data is here, the facts are here – the business case is there – now get sign off. With that sign-off should come an executive, tasked with driving the company’s diversity and inclusivity (D&I) agenda, a budget with which to do so, and metrics against which D&I will be measured. Organisations need to treat diversity and inclusivity like any other business opportunity – invest in it, develop it, report on it. This shouldn’t just be a values-based focus – it can directly impact your bottom line.

2. Develop a strategic training program

Invest in developing leaders from previously disadvantaged groups– In order to ensure you and your leaders get the best of courses, ensure the courses you select empower people with:

  • Skills in negotiating, coaching and giving feedback
  • Increased confidence in leading and influencing others
  • An understanding of organisations, power and politics
  • Awareness of personal intention and impact
  • A network of colleagues with whom they have a shared powerful experience
  • Self awareness to address detrimental and self sabotaging patterns of thinking and responding

3. Be aware of unconscious bias

Communicate the importance of managing bias across the company – Joelle Emerson in Harvard Business Review suggests that a concern with diversity or unconscious bias training and teaching is that people can become defensive, and using technology can help alleviate that concern. “Training can be designed to reduce defensiveness by explaining that we don’t have unconscious biases because we’re bad people – we have them because we are people,” she explains.

4. Focus on succession

Retention, succession, addressing the skills gap and committing to inclusion are some of the ways organisations can challenge the status quo. Invest from within, empower from within, challenge from within, grow from within to ensure you’re seeing optimal returns. Your loyalty to your people will be rewarded.

5. Implement lifelong learning

A digital society is a dynamic one. New technologies will regularly enter the marketplace, creating new skills and new roles as fast as others disappear. Today it is widely accepted that a small proportion of jobs may disappear but more significantly 100% of roles will change. In a skills-based economy, how well you can learn and adapt is more important than what you already know. Yet we continue to make hiring and promotion decisions through interviews and very specific requirements based on years of tenure and past experience in unrelated roles.

Businesses benefit from inclusive and diverse workforces through the variety and depth of ideas and innovation that come from having people with a multitude of backgrounds, experiences and cultural frameworks. A business targeting women that is 80% male-dominated is likely missing out on a lot of what its market wants and needs. By changing the way we approach D&I and treating it as an investment as well as (rather than only) a moral imperative, businesses and our society will thrive.

By Faryn Pearson, Chief Innovation Officer, MasterStart

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