Are businesses doing enough to be diverse?

KPMG recently held an ‘inclusion week’ to foster greater understanding of the diverse nature of our workforce. During the week we hosted a ‘manning up’ panel featuring our senior male executives discussing their role in creating an inclusive workplace. We did this because many business people still think that diversity is a female or minority issue. That’s both unfortunate, and inaccurate.

It’s unfortunate because it’s based on a zero sum view of the world — in other words, for us to promote a female it must be at the expense of a capable man.

It’s inaccurate because there are five solid reasons why diverse leadership benefits all of us, no matter who we are – customer relevance, employee recruitment, productivity, decision-making and ethics.

“…many business people still think that diversity is a female or minority issue. That’s both unfortunate, and inaccurate”

In many industries women account for over 75% of the consumer base. Ignoring them makes no moral sense, nor is it logical. You only have to look at Japan where the cost to its economy of not using female resources has been calculated. What became clear was that more women in decision-making positions would help change policy and attitude to women returning to the workplace, or women were simply seeking the ability to be mobile in their jobs in the same way as men are. .

The majority of new entrants into the labour market in the UK today are from minority groups. And Millennials (those born around the early 1980s to the early 2000s) have different agendas to the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) or even Gen Xers (those born between 1965 and the early 1980s) who still run the show. In Scott Page’s book The Difference, he sets out the diversity prediction theory that details how greater diversity of thought, or cognitive diversity, can reduce the average error in decision making and help prevent ‘groupthink’.

“Diversity is a reality, inclusion is a choice.”

At KPMG, we have developed a new inclusive leadership strategy to support the Chairman’s One Firm vision. This is based on four pillars; diversity, inclusion, clients and thought leadership. Rather than adopt a ‘strand’ approach based on gender, disability or other areas, we are accounting for infinite diversity throughout the system, from attraction and hiring to promotions and development to retention and career transition. Diversity is a reality, inclusion is a choice, and we’re trying to allow everyone to play their part.

It’s often a myth that the way to build strong client relationships is by banging on about how great you are, a disproportionately male skill. In fact, sharing a vulnerability or something deeply personal, a disproportionately female skill, can be a far more effective and sustainable way to build relationships. We believe this in terms of our key client relationships. Rather than avoid ‘difficult issues’ such as staffing a demanding client team with colleagues who want to work flexibly, or colleagues who may not be out or disclosing mental health issues, we find it can be incredibly profound to surface these issues and deepen the client relationship as a result.

Contrary to diversity being a sideshow, how businesses accept (or reject) difference will be a critical business driver in the twenty first century. Time for some to get a grip.

Stephen Frost, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, KPMG and Author, The Inclusion Imperative

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