It would be fair to say that the idea of inclusiveness - or at least the term - is in something of a vogue at the moment. Companies everywhere are pushing for more inclusion and diversity. This is backed up by a 2019 report by Glassdoor, which shows that over the course of a year, the number of diversity and inclusion job openings in the UK increased by 106%. This trend was mirrored in other countries across Europe, as well as in the United States. The report also highlighted the fact that the largest increase in D&I hiring was in the public sector, but significant increases were also reported in larger corporations. Given that companies and public bodies appear to be spending a lot more time and money on recruiting D&I officers, it would stand to reason that there is something to be gained from inclusiveness and diversity - beyond just good PR.
Diversity in facts:
Indeed, it seems that in the corporate world, diversity and inclusiveness is a strong predictor of success. Research by McKinsey makes this abundantly clear, showing that diversity correlates to better financial performance: gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors, while ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform. The HR consultant Josh Bersin has gone so far as to say that ‘in today’s working world, your ability to attract and engage people of all ages, cultures, backgrounds, and types is paramount to your business success.’ Of course, some might suggest that what we are observing here is the outcome, and that another factor might be at play other than inclusiveness. For instance, a new and promising tech startup staffed mainly by young people with egalitarian, progressive views might be more likely to be both more successful and more diverse by default. It may be, therefore, that
A company’s ability to attract a diverse workforce might be a predictor of success, rather than the actual diversity itself.
But nevertheless, the data is equal to financial success.
The Key to Inclusion:
So how do companies become more inclusive and diverse? The obvious place to start is with hiring. The methods, protocols and standards by which companies assess potential candidates for positions are incredibly important, as they essentially generate the 'truth’ about a candidate. If a company is to make their hiring decisions based on information - regardless of the goal of inclusion and diversity - then this information should be accurate and objective. A great deal of research has shown that bias and discrimination are still very much present in the modern workplace. One approach to fixing this problem is by reassessing the reliability of current hiring protocols: if a company can make each individual step of the hiring process as objective as possible, then the process should become less susceptible to bias.
Inclusion should be at the forefront of decision-making in hiring, but this also means broadening the range of settings in which jobs are advertised, and by extension, expanding the backgrounds from which candidates are recruited - says research from Deloitte. If a company only hires from within its sphere - for instance, if an insurance company only hires candidates who’ve worked in insurance and accounting - then they are only perceiving the workforce myopically, and will consequently only be able to access a small section of it. Another point the Deloitte research makes is that diversity can be achieved by offering training for those from different backgrounds in order to assist their entry into the industry. In doing this, a company can broaden the range of talent on which it draws, which can, in turn, widen the range of perspectives involved in decision-making at the company.
But of course, inclusiveness is about more than just hiring. Inclusiveness must be incorporated into internal decision-making as well, so that a company’s internal life is also reflective of diversity and inclusion.
Once again, the most significant factor that makes hiring unfair is the same one that makes internal promotion unfair: subjectivity. When a decision is made about a new applicant, or indeed an employee up for promotion, the lack of clear, unbiased information can result in unequal treatment of people on spurious grounds. Take the appraisal process for instance, which is widely used to assess employee performance across the corporate world. The manager-appraisal relies on the accuracy, fairness and integrity of the managers’ opinion of a subordinate. The problem with this is obvious: managers’ opinions are both personal and professional; subjective, not objective. This is yet another source of bias which needs to be addressed. The solution is not to do away with line manager-appraisals, though - as they are undoubtedly a useful tool for assessing employee performance - but the appraisal process itself must be standardised in such a way as to minimize the room for personal bias.
Indeed, this is what inclusion is all about: understanding that firstly, biases exist against particular people in particular contexts, and secondly, accepting that something must both be done in response to counteract these biases.