Do Diversity Statements Really Work?

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lottiehsmphotoWe are surrounded by pro-diversity messages today – from the #MeToo campaign, to the controversial Pepsi advert featuring Kendall Jenner – diversity, and the lack of it, penetrates every aspect of society.

We find here at HSM, that workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I) is often the most pressing challenge for many HR executives, and it’s no surprise given that there are only 25 female Fortune 500 CEOs and three black Fortune 500 CEOs[1], and that just 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment[2]. Many organisations are trying to amend these inequalities not only because it has become socially unacceptable, but also because it has been evidenced that a diverse workforce can greatly benefit an organisation’s bottom line.

For example McKinsey has found that companies in the top quartile of ethnic and racial diversity were 35% more likely to financially outperform their industry competitors[3]. This clearly has huge appeal for organisations, yet there remains a significant gap between the rhetoric and the reality of diversity efforts today. In this post I will focus on how often well-intentioned organisations are unaware of how to make the leap from the rhetoric of aspirational diversity agendas, to creating a reality of a company culture that is truly diverse and inclusive.

One way in which companies try to incorporate a pro-diversity message within their organisation’s culture and values is by including diversity or equal employer opportunity (EEO) statements, or by creating lengthy and comprehensive D&I policies. It is sometimes assumed that by creating these statements or policies, they will automatically attract a more diverse applicant pool of talent, and thus a more diverse workforce, allowing them to benefit from all of the advantages of diverse workforces. However, research has shown that EEO and diversity statements are ineffective in bringing about actual change[4]. A recent World Economic Forum report claimed that although 97% of companies have diversity programs or statements in place, only 25% of employees from diverse groups believe that they have personally benefited from these initiatives[5].

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So where can we go from here? Evidently employers still have a long way to go in fully addressing discrimination in organisations. Eliminating discrimination and working towards inclusivity needs to be made a regular part of the conversation in order to become a reality. For example, it could be a good starting point to ask employees what they think inclusion means, to ask them to share their experiences of feeling excluded, and to co-create with their employers the actions that would make the company more inclusive. The ideas and actions that come from these conversations can help bring your policy to life, as they truly come from the heart of your organisation and your people, those who will ultimately be responsible for implementing it.

This is something we have enabled clients to do, using our Collaboration Jams. These online, crowdsourced conversations enable thousands of employees to connect in a many-to-many conversation around the most pressing issues. Combined with expert facilitation, they make even the most sensitive topics safe to explore and provide leaders and HR teams with evidence-based solutions. Get in touch to find out more about how you can empower your employees to convert your diversity rhetoric into a reality.


[1] http://fortune.com/2017/06/09/white-men-senior-executives-fortune-500-companies-diversity-data/

[2] https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7540

[3] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters

[4] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/000312240607100404

[5] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/company-diversity-fatigue-no-excuse/

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