How to Drive the Diversity and Inclusion Agenda Forward in your Workplace

12 min read | Sandra Henke | Article | DE&I People and culture

A diverse group of employees talking together.

Diversity and Inclusion is a major priority in the modern workplace Sandra Henke, our Group Head of People and Culture has advice for leaders looking to drive positive change in this area. 

Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace: Key Insights

Episode One of Hays’ Leadership Insights podcast focuses on leadership and driving diversity and inclusion.

  • Diversity and inclusion is about more than gender and race. There are other aspects of individuality to consider. Also, remember that diversity and inclusivity mean different things.
  • There is real demand for guidance on how to drive diversity and Hays have a role to play as a market leader. We work with a number of international groups to effect change worldwide.
  • The podcast contains expert advice for leaders just starting on the diversity journey. This includes everything from celebrating small wins, to gathering data effectively and building a business case.
  • For employees, Diversity and inclusion begins at the recruitment stage. It is crucial to embed this approach into attracting talent and assess all candidates fairly.

Read on for a full transcript of the podcast episode. Or, to discuss your employment needs in this field, please contact your local consultant.

Driving the Diversity Agenda: Background

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a top priority for business leaders around the world. All ecosystems thrive on diversity, and the world of business is no different. But, the journey to building a truly diverse and inclusive workplace can often be long and daunting. So, in the first-ever episode of Hays’ Leadership Insight podcast our Group Head of People and Culture, Sandra Henke, shares some practical advice to help you drive the diversity agenda within your organisation

Everyone is accountable for diversity and inclusion, but change comes from the top 

What do we really mean by diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

It’s very easy for us to begin and end that conversation with gender and race, but true diversity goes far beyond that. Essentially, it’s about embracing difference. It’s about valuing, recognising, respecting, and including individuality and believing that that can add value to our workplace.

Think about a time when you personally felt excluded. You’ll possibly find that the experiences you think of don’t have anything to do with race and gender. Yet you still felt excluded. There are probably people within your organisation who are feeling exactly the same right now. And, as a result, perhaps not being as engaged or productive as they could be. There’s a great analogy that I think works well when talking about diversity and inclusion. Diversity is being invited to a party; inclusion is actually being asked to dance when you get there. 

Read more: How to combat hidden bias in the workplace

Thanks Sandra, great analogy. In your role as Group Head of People & Culture at Hays, I’m sure this is a topic which is particularly close to your heart. Why is that?

Every organisation wants really talented people to be engaged and productive. If everyone in a team can thrive and flourish, everyone benefits, from the individual, to the organisation, to society on the macro level.

We have a role to play at Hays, as a market leader. I’m excited that we are part of that broader conversation, both internally and externally.Our clients want our help. We are being asked for expertise and guidance on this every single day. Clearly we can’t provide this if we don’t have our own diversity and inclusion story to tell. It makes absolute business sense for our people to reflect our customer base, particularly as we’re a people business.

You’re clearly passionate about the subject. Can you tell us a bit about Hays’ diversity and inclusion journey to date?

I’m very proud of the culture at Hays. We describe it as high performance and a true meritocracy. We really don’t care about people’s backgrounds, if they can deliver the results for our customers. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect, of course. We’re on a journey and we’re very much still on the road. But, we’ve done a few things to help push this agenda along in recent years.

  • We have recently been accredited with the National Equality Standard (NES) award in the UK. This is considered the gold standard of cultural diversity and inclusion.
  • Three years ago we introduced our Global Head of Diversity. The objective of that role is to make sure that we are driving D&I across our business and sharing great practice internationally. The Global Head interfaces externally with the market, to stay on top of new initiatives and talking to the very best providers in this space.
  • In spain, for example, we partner with ‘Inspiring Girls’ – a very high profile mentorship program for young women. We work actively with the Male Champions for Change programme in Australia, and the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience. Another example is our success in Italy, where we won the Disability Recruiter of the Year Award.

We are in continual evolution, on a journey, and we’ve got a lot more to do. But I am very excited about where we are already.

In your opinion, what progress has been made generally in the world of work, and has there been enough?

We have just passed the 125 year anniversary of women having the vote in New Zealand, and a century of suffrage in the UK. We’ve come a long way since then, and progress is accelerating. I certainly believe that we are having conversations today in the workplace that we wouldn’t have had even two or three years ago. Progress is happening, talent pools and hiring is more diverse, but every single country is at a different stage in terms of employment. We can definitely see that difference across our 33 countries, and across certain industries.

I still think that diversity and inclusion is too often seen as a problem to be solved, to allow a business to get on with other things. That is absolutely not the approach taken here at Hays. We see D&I as an ongoing conversation and a gentle shifting of culture. The more open, honest and transparent we can be in this conversation, the easier it is to push the dial culturally.

For those leaders just starting out in their diversity journey – what initial actions would you recommend?

First of all, recognise that it is a journey. I know it sounds like an overused phrase but it really is. We’re talking about an evolution of inclusive workplace culture, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Here are a few things that we have learned firsthand at Hays:

  • Take a considered approach and don’t dive in head first.
  • Don’t look at this necessarily as a problem to solve, unless you have a systemic issue in your culture. Begin by understanding what the definition of diversity and inclusion is in your business. Talk to your people and engage everyone in an inclusive way. It can be counter-productive to inadvertently exclude parts of your employee population from this conversation.
  • Think about quick wins. At Hays we discovered that we were making it unnecessarily complicated for parents to take parental leave. We very quickly re-engineered our process and made that policy and procedure a lot smoother and easier to engage with. That showed people very quickly that we were taking this seriously.
  • Understand what your organisation is already doing really well. Successes may be small, but celebrate them all the same. During our accreditation process for the NES award, over a hundred people were interviewed and they unanimously reported that they felt very well supported in their careers. That was something that was really worth communicating and celebrating across our employee population.
  • Prioritise! You can’t do everything all at once and that’s okay, as long as you’re communicating what you are doing. Think about accountability, consequences and progress. How are you measuring this? Why are you talking about it? Most importantly, what are the people at the very top of your organisation saying about this message? D&I is not the sole domain of HR – there is a broader leadership responsibility that is vital.
  • Another thing that we have learned is that it is useful to gather data about our employee population, even if that can seem counterintuitive to inclusivity. If you see your culture as a meritocracy, it can feel odd going to your employees and asking for private information about their religious affiliations or their ethnicity. However, if you can gather that information in the proper way, it gives you a really good insight into your employee population, and where you might need to focus your time, energy and resources.
  • You need to have mature and confident conversations with your leadership about that data. Making it safe and inclusive to have those conversations, even at that level, is important. The data then helps you build a business case for further D&I investment, which can help generate greater results. 
  • Finally, accept that the journey is going to make some people uncomfortable. Getting comfortable with people being uncomfortable is part of being a leader in any organisation. But if people feel like they are being included in the conversation, they are far more likely to open up.

Read more: How to encourage ‘Inclusive Leadership’ in your organisation

How important do you think senior stakeholder buy-in is?

It is absolutely key that the stamp of approval is given by the people at the top of the business. Middle management is also very important, because they are often responsible for executing the strategy at the front line. Line managers have coaching conversations and performance appraisals; they are the ones with a real sense of what might be holding certain parts of the population back.

But it’s also a question of how you define leadership in diversity.. I think every single person in an organisation has a leadership role to play, and every single person contributes to what workplace culture looks like. After all, culture is just a set of behaviours and attitudes defined by the people who participate. Everyone needs to be included in the accountability. There are certain behaviours that aren’t acceptable if you are trying to build a culture of diversity and inclusion. We’re all human and we all have unconscious bias, so we all need to take accountability and be aware of that. So, in reality, we’re all in it together.

What measures can businesses take to ensure that their recruitment and hiring processes are as inclusive as possible?

Wherever you can build diversity into that experience of hiring people, you will get a better result. Here are a few practical suggestions to consider:

· There’s a lot of debate about whether all CVs should be blind – meaning no name or reference to gender or background is included. This is certainly something worth considering, and something we do in our own assessment process.

· We have one person do the initial screening and interview. Someone else attends the assessment centre. A third individual performs the post-interview, and someone else again makes the actual offer. We try to make this assessing group diverse as we can and we promote honest conversations amongst them. We want the assessors to challenge one another on their decision making.

· We’re also committed to unconscious bias training: something we call ‘open mind training’. That training is given to everyone involved with internal hiring. We are also rolling it out more broadly to front-line management, so that we can all be aware of how bias impacts the hiring process.

Read more: Getting the best from blind recruitment

How can business leaders build an inclusive culture?

Values should be communicated from the top. It is also important to remember that what we value is not always written down in a policy or procedure. Cultural norms are often unspoken. Have a look at how you review performance – what are you praising, what do you value, what are you paying bonuses for? What behaviours are you rewarding through that process? Those things need to be clearly identified and defined.

Leaders should create transparency. As organisations are generally less hierarchical and more informal than ever before, we’re seeing a demand for authenticity and transparency. Embrace that. Resisting is going to have a negative impact on diversity and inclusion. Hays is a best employer on Glassdoor. At any time our employees can review their employment experience with us, unmoderated, unfiltered, and anonymously. 

Read more: Why diversity isn’t a hindrance to efficiency

And finally – a question we will be asking all of our podcast guests – what do you think are the top three qualities that make a good leader?

This question really gave me pause for thought.. If I can try to distil a complex answer into a few words: sincerity, authenticity, and trust. A major part of that is openness to change. Employees respond to the energy of leaders. So, in order to make effective change, we have to show the energy that we expect from everyone else in the organisation. I think it’s dangerous for any of us to think we’ve done and learned everything. Regardless of how senior a leader is they should be constantly questioning, be frank about shortcomings in the business, and be prepared to personally evolve and grow with the organisation.

Driving Diversity and Inclusion: What’s next?

Looking for some more leadership advice? Then you might find some of our other blogs useful:

· Do you need to be a more inclusive leader?

· To #PressForProgress, we must thaw the frozen middle

· Your guide to managing intergenerational conflict

About this author

Sandra is Group Head of People and Culture at Hays. She is a member of the Management Board with responsibility for leading our People and Culture strategy. Born in New Zealand, Sandra has worked for Hays for the past 20 years. She moved to London in 2012 to take up a role in the UK&I and was promoted to the Group Management Board in 2017.

Her key area of focus is to evolve our culture and people practices, with a specific focus on Diversity and Inclusion, Change Management, Leadership and Talent Development, Succession, Management Skills and Employee Engagement.

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