Are we looking at this the wrong way up?

Print First published: January 13th 2019; Last Updated: February 2nd 2022

A report by Boston Consulting Group makes the point that diversity efforts by companies are not driving results. Why aren’t we seeing more progress - is it because companies aren’t talking enough to the people they profess to support?

City Hive view

BCG’s report, Fixing the Flawed Approach to Diversity, challenges the resources that have been put into diversity programmes as having fallen short of the mark in terms of the employees they are impacting. Their survey shows clearly that diverse employees still experience or perceive a bias in their every day work, and lack the confidence in their employers to make bias-free decisions from who takes on the best projects or gets promoted. Left unaddressed, this means a significant cultural problem amongst staff, and it may be one that is under the radar, because the key decision makers are oblivious.

The report advocates for a return to basics including anti-discrimination policies and anti-bias training. For City Hive, to be effective this includes taking a real step back and asking yourself why you are going through the process of a diversity programme. If the answer is anything other than addressing structural barriers in your organisation, you’re not fixing the problem, you’re covering it up.

BCG notes there are some common success factors; leadership commitment, ensuring the approach taken is appropriate to the organisation, and developing an appropriate set of metrics to track progress. The key to this all is engagement, which means two things; talking to the groups that are affected, but also a broader discussion with all employees to change minds and perspectives.

If the decision makers can’t relate to the perspective of those in the minority there is a good chance that programmes they sign off haven’t been road-tested. Imposing a diversity programme without prior engagement is well-meaning at best, and risks glossing over issues and diverting attention away from a frank exploration of issues.

For BCG, this means that what it alls ‘hidden gems’ are being missed. These are measures and initiatives that different groups identified as effective and valued, but that are often overlooked. For women, these included visible role models, and tools that help with work-life balance. For the category identified as ‘employees of color’, the focus was on bias-free processes through recruitment and retention, and formal sponsorship. For LGBTQ employees, inclusion was important, as well as access to appropriate (and equal) healthcare.  

Key findings:

    1. The survey looks at barriers across four areas; recruitment, retention, advancement and the leadership commitment. Often, recruitment is seen as the key barrier by leadership. However, retention and fair advancement is likely a much larger and intractable problem, because they require that the core structural and cultural issues in an organisation be addressed.
    2. The lack of diversity in senior leadership perpetuates the problems lower down, because the leaders can’t relate to the barriers faced by employees that fall outside of the mould of the dominant group.
    3. Half of all diverse employees see bias as part of their day-to-day work experience.
    4. Half of all diverse employees do not believe their employers have the right mechanisms in place to ensure bias-free decision making on core tasks or progression.
    5. There is some progress on gender, at least in terms of perception. Whereas other areas of diversity need to catch up; there is a perception gap between the obstacles that straight, white men see to the advancement of racially or ethnically diverse employees and those that employees in that group report.

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