The BBC recently came under fire following a move to take positive action in targeting potential employees from ethnic minorities.

Whilst an organisation feeling that it needs to take positive action, including setting quotas, isn’t ideal, if systems have been in place for a while and not much is changing, then occasionally drastic action is needed to force a transition.

While there is more awareness for greater diversity in the workplace, many organisations, including the most committed, are struggling to make a difference.

Time to take a step back

A good first step is to have a clear focus as to why a diverse workforce is important for the company. It may not just be about ethnicity, but could include broadening the diversity of skills, experience, culture and background in order to harness the best mix for the organisation or specific teams. For many companies, for example, there is a clear business need to reflect the expectations of clients, partners and other stakeholders.

At the most basic level, simply head out into the organisation and look around. Do teams/departments look the same? Are there more men or women? What is the average age? Some of this you might not be able to influence easily, for example where your team may mirror the local population, but it can give an indication as to how diverse an organisation really is. If you want to take things further, some other approaches could include:

  • Look at the data that already exists in the workplace - from recruitment details to employee surveys, or evaluations such as benchmarking against peers. This can give an overarching view as to whether teams reflect the company’s clients and if there are any missing key skills, experience or strengths.
  • Dig deeper and you may see some interesting patterns. For example, are certain groups more likely to get promoted or hired in the first place? Do some employees leave work to have children and are then less likely to return? Are certain groups less likely to take up certain policies or working practices?
  • Look for opportunities where change can easily take place. For example, if one person leaves an established team and needs to be replaced, or if the team is growing, it’s the perfect time to re-assess the mix in your team. Instead of replacing or adding like-for-like, would a different skill-set, approach or experience help challenge the team to perform better?
  • Challenge internal or external recruiters to cast outside of the traditional pool and see what else is out there. Consider spending 10 minutes posting jobs in one or two new forums. You might be pleasantly surprised at who walks through the door.

The interview process can also provide unconsciously planned barriers for some candidates. For example, if anecdotal stories being told at interviews or induction meetings refer to drunken nights out or a particular employee ‘just liking a good joke’, that can speak volumes to people who don’t come from the same culture or feel like they don’t fit in.

For firms really wanting to level the playing field, running programmes that cater to the diverse range of needs of potential employees outside of the hiring process can have a big impact. These can help build a committed pool of potential talent, and allow different groups of people to get to know the company and its culture. They can also help employees gain a better understanding of potential candidates, making all parties feel more comfortable and improve interview performance.

(Front) Line Managers

Line managers tend to be the centre of any cultural change as it’s typically up to them to implement new initiatives. They therefore need to be able to approach potentially awkward conversations with confidence. The key is self-awareness. These individuals will require support in how best to handle conversations that sit outside the comfort zone of both parties.

This could involve speaking to colleagues and peers and exploring, in a safe-space, what they may or may not be comfortable talking about at work. Creating simple scenarios based on this and discussing how they might approach each topic is a great way to boost confidence.

Companies should take their lead from the BBC and have the confidence to tackle diversity head on if they want to stay relevant now and into the future. It’s time to stop brushing diversity under the carpet and instead start with what changes can be made and keep going from there.

By Patrick Voss, managing director, Jeito