How to improve diversity in your small firm

  • 24 May 2022

By Steve Butler, CEO, Punter Southall Aspire

The business argument for greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace is simply this: the more ways in which you can look at a problem, the better chance you have of solving it.

Added to that is the fact that every organisation should reflect the clients and customers it serves if it really wants to understand and connect with them.

However, for many smaller companies, becoming more diverse can seem like a tough challenge.

 

The good news is younger people starting or rising through the ranks see the world in a different way from their older colleagues.

They increasingly demand equality of opportunity for all, regardless of background, gender, ethnicity, disability or orientation. They expect to be allowed to strike a balance so they can enjoy time for family and personal life. They want their company to embody ideals and social purposes with which they identify. And if their employer can’t deliver that, they may take their talents elsewhere.

The solution is perhaps an accumulation of many small changes to develop a culture which welcomes new joiners from all backgrounds and supports their ongoing career within an environment of mutual understanding and respect. In summary, a workplace where everyone belongs. The following are some simple steps I’ve taken at Punter Southall Aspire:

Take a fresh look

Review your management structure to check if you have enough women making leadership decisions. Consider replacing your senior team with a series of operational committees led by each of the senior managers.

This will lead to more diverse, multigenerational teams contributing to business strategy through a larger group of people involved in the leadership discussion. Being involved in these meetings will increase the confidence of your team and participating in decision-making will broaden their horizons.

 

Reverse the roles

Set up a reverse mentoring scheme for your senior managers. By flipping the perceived balance of power to the younger or more inexperienced colleague, you give a platform to new ideas and fresh insights.

In the mentor role, employees can gain visibility with the senior management team, displaying the talent that the company is developing as they look to the future. This different perspective also ensures no blind spots lurk within the senior management team’s thinking.

Join the dots

Middle managers can inadvertently block change, usually through lack of knowledge or not “joining the dots” on how their actions are perceived.

To address this, implement monthly manager discussion groups to agree best practice around management techniques through a diversity and inclusion lens. Perhaps watch a TED talk together to stimulate and educate the team and kindle discussion about how the learning can be applied.

 

Make meetings more meaningful

To avoid meetings becoming a one-way transmission from the top, begin with a sign-in with each attendee taking a minute to update everyone else on what’s happening in their life. Starting the meeting with a personal reflection breaks down reserve and sets the tone.

When you reach the business section, people are much more transparent and responsive, and the meeting is far more productive. It also creates a better understanding of what other pressures people in the team are dealing with in their lives.

Be flexible 

The pandemic proved we can operate remotely. To emphasise the positives of this experience and reinforce that this is now the norm, senior managers need to champion flexibility. Make flexibility requests “reason-neutral”, design flexibility into job specification and train managers to effectively manage remote and dispersed teams.

This will increase the pool of qualified job applicants, who otherwise might not be available or willing to consider jobs. It also helps to retain valuable employees because they can adjust their hours to meet personal needs instead of having to use leave or resign.

Take a risk

When recruiting, consider someone who doesn’t have all the qualifications and technical ability required for a role, or who doesn’t slot in as a direct replacement but has the potential to contribute most to their team. Someone with a different perspective who will complement colleagues while challenging their thinking when necessary.

 

Keep trying

The journey to an inclusive culture is ongoing; you are always learning. If things are not working, regroup and reconsider the different elements that may work better within your own organisation and try again.

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