The Case for Diversity
There is increasing evidence that companies with more diversity in the workforce perform better financially. The consulting firm McKinsey describes diversity as a “competitive differentiator” that creates an advantage in five ways: it makes companies more attractive to top talent; it makes companies more insightful and responsive to diverse customer needs; it increases employee satisfaction by reducing conflict and improving collaboration.
Diversity of thinking also improves decision-making. The work of Belbin outlined how high-performing teams contain a diverse range of thinking styles. Successful teams need ideas-generation, attention to detail, planning skills, communication and team cohesion skills, coordination, planning and networking skills – and we need diverse individuals in the team to bring the full range of these thinking styles. Diversity in teams reduces the propensity for Groupthink (where pressures to conform in the group results in decisions being made without considering alternative viewpoints, and dissenting voices are ignored or silenced) and supports better decision-making that is less undermined by cognitive biases.
Finally, there is the moral case for diversity – which is about demonstrating in practice that there is equality of opportunity for all. Organisations that fail to tackle discrimination in the workplace are risking their reputation.
What is Diversity?
Boards have a long history of seeking diversity in skills – boards often seek appointments with particular expertise in (for example) legal, accounting, and property fields. This approach has naturally generated a bias towards appointing those with extensive high-level work experience – and as a result, boards have been dominated by those who are white, senior-aged, and male.
Of course, this skew in representation and power has been noticed and begun to be addressed. The campaign for more women on boards has been longstanding. New legislation on reporting the gender pay gap puts further pressure to have more equality of representation at the top of the organisation. Funders seek evidence that the organisations they fund are tackling equality and diversity issues – through recruitment policies, through staff terms and conditions, and through board representation. The Public Sector Equality Duty 2011 requires government-funded organisations to carry out their functions without discrimination, and to advance equality of opportunity between those who share a protected characteristic, and those who do not.
The Equality Act 2010 identifies nine protected characteristics:
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Reassignment
- Religion / Belief
- Marital Status
- Pregnancy and Maternity
Many values-led organisations recognise the value of diversity on the board. They actively seek out board appointments with protected characteristics.; and they seek representation from the communities the serve. This will bring a level of diversity of thinking to the board’s decisions. Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go – the balance between having skills on the board (where we still seek this being demonstrated through senior work experience) and having those with protected characteristics means many boards lack younger voices and voices from those with circumstances that have prevented them progressing careerwise. We need to recognise that talent refers to skills and not experience.
True diversity goes beyond protected characteristics – it requires diversity of thinking too. It requires a diversity of skills, competencies, philosophies and life experiences. It requires board members who are not afraid to think differently and to challenge the status quo, who are willing to uphold principals and values and to bring the quiet voices of society to the fore.