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Management strategies: establishing an ethnically diverse workplace

This article originally appeared on the NatWest Business Hub.

 

Ethnic diversity can benefit your organisation in a number of ways. We look at some of the diversification strategies small businesses can adopt and why they should want to in the first place.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest Britain’s workforces aren’t as ethnically diverse as its population. For example, 54 of FTSE 100 companies lack a single board member from an ethnic minority, while the unemployment rate among white British people is around half of those for all other ethnic groups.

Many companies are working hard to address their own imbalances, but tackling diversification can be tricky. So where should you start?

Appreciate what diversity can do

Before you begin thinking about how you’re going to diversify your workforce, be sure to understand what benefits it brings.

According to Nancy Roberts, founder and CEO of Umbrella Analytics, a company that uses AI and data to help businesses identify and address corporate bias in the hiring process, ethnic diversification is a no-brainer.

“All of the relevant research shows that diverse workforces perform better on various levels,” she says. “Diverse teams tend to be more innovative because the variety of viewpoints means there are different ideas being brought to the table constantly. With different perspectives available, companies also tend to make better decisions – that’s particularly useful for a small business where the margin for error is perhaps lower than it would be for a larger, more financially powerful corporation.”

Roberts, who is also the founder of diversity consultancy Business Inclusivity, says that SMEs promoting ethnic diversity are likely to be viewed more favourably by those outside the organisation. “It provides a differentiator and can even help companies access larger contracts with big organisations or clients in the public sector, where there is a stated desire to address diversity issues,” she says.

Lead by example with open discussions

An understanding of diversity and the impact it can have should permeate through the business, rather than being just a leader’s personal objective, says Alex Cheney, director of business intelligence firm Wilbury Stratton. “It’s crucial that employees understand the benefits of a diverse workforce, and this can only happen with regular communication and education,” he says. “CEOs need to talk about their inclusive workplaces, and how people can flourish regardless of culture, race or religion.”

“All of the research shows that diverse workforces perform better on various levels. Diverse teams tend to be more innovative because the variety of viewpoints means there are different ideas being brought to the table constantly”

Nancy Roberts, CEO, Umbrella Analytics

It helps, too, if those within your company have examples to follow, as diversity breeds diversity. Cheney says this is where some companies go wrong. “All too often we discuss the benefits of diversity with leaders, but there are only one or two types people represented at the table,” he says. “Try to have a diverse range of employees with influence to lead the discussions – employees need to be inspired by listening to the journeys these people have been on. Only then can people empathise and realise what a positive impact diversity can have on the organisations they work in.”

Work with others to combat stigma

It’s your responsibility as leader to educate your workforce, but that’s not to say you can’t get help from outside of the business.

Tech consultancy Sparta Global operates in a sector known for its lack of diversity, but CEO David Rai is working on a number of fronts to fight the trend. “Our team members regularly attend diversity and inclusion events and workshops to discuss the issue,” he says. “We also speak with authority on the subject on social media in blogs and with the press.”

He adds that collaboration with industry partners is also important: “We work with several charities and bodies focused on improving underrepresentation in a number of demographics – organisations such as Colorintech, Black British Business Awards and Codebar. With their help, we can provide a less challenging pathway to tech training.”

Diversify your hiring methods

Consider how your hiring strategy might impact the diversity of the talent pool you have access to – if you find that you’re relying too heavily on one technique, it’s likely that your reach is limited.

Roberts suggests companies think outside the box. “Try advertising positions using channels outside of the industry norm,” she says. “General job board websites like Monster will reach a much more diverse audience than your own industry press, where it’s likely that only the current demographic will look.

“Educational outreach can be effective too. Some careers aren’t represented enough in schools, and taking on students for work experience or attending careers fairs can open up your company to a wider pool of talent, attracting people who may not have considered that career due to their own assumptions about inclusivity.”

A similar approach has proven to be effective at Sparta Global. “We approach students at university recruitment and graduate events directly,” says Rai, “spending the time to speak to people who might be anxious about entering the tech industry because of their ethnicity, gender or social background. Our dedicated talent team has always followed this personal approach to recruitment.”

Be inclusive and diversity will follow

It’s not enough to just start recruiting people from different backgrounds – you must also create an atmosphere of inclusion across the business and doing that tends to be a simpler task for SMEs. “Their culture tends to be easier to influence than that of a larger corporation,” Roberts says. “If, as a leader, you’re clear on the benefits of diversity and committed to this agenda, you can set the standard and the rest of the business will likely follow.”

Ethnic diversity shouldn’t just be a box-ticking exercise; approached correctly it can benefit your company in so many ways. Start by making your objectives clear and you’re on the right track already.