Diversity in the workplace has become the buzz phrase in business, following the ongoing EU row on whether or not to enforce gender quotas.
As the EU rolls back on making quotas mandatory, Huff Post UK saw for itself some of the attitudes towards women-only awards; some believed they were necessary in order to further the awareness of successful women, others found them patronising and unhelpful.
And in case you're still unconvinced there's still a problem getting women into senior roles, consider former UKIP candidate Steven Moxam's submission in October to the Women in Work committee, where he insists the reasons behind women not being on more board positions are purely "deep-seated biological" ones, and that having more women on boards would adversely affect the men on them as it would lead them to "display" more and become more competitive.
He continues: "The womanly qualities sought after are exactly those qualities not possessed by the unusual women who do successfully compete for an executive place on the board. This renders any 'representation' argument worse than empty.
"A childless career woman is hardly likely to be more able to represent the interests of women than is a man directly serving the interests of a typical woman in being married to such a woman. So even the presence of the 'token' woman is unlikely to be of benefit."
But that aside, the argument should move beyond simply getting more women into the top jobs, and focus on introducing members of every minority into senior positions.
Earlier this month, the Out on the Street initiative came to Europe – the purpose of the US-born movement is to engage businesses in discussions about how to enhance the careers of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leaders by creating connections to increase opportunities for business.
Ahead of the meeting, Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, told the Sunday Telegraph the spectre of homophobia was rising in London too, and questioned why there are no openly homosexual chief executives running Britain’s biggest companies.
The industrialist, who resigned from the oil giant in 2007 after lying in court to cover up circumstances linked to his sexuality, believes that homosexual men and women may not be being chosen for top jobs at FTSE 100 companies because of their sexuality.
Speaking to the paper, Lord Browne said gay rights should be as high on the agenda as other issues such as gender and race.
“There appear to be no out gay chief executive officers in the top companies listed on the FTSE,” he said.
“This cannot be for want of talent. That leaves two explanations: either LGBT candidates are self-selecting away from these positions, or they are not being selected for them.”
People with a disability are also lacking in senior level positions. Ole Black, deputy director for public policy at the Office for National Statistics – and also champions the diversity agenda – told the Guardian that companies often don’t get enough support managers who want to know how to help staff members with disabilities.
“We set up an internal training session for managers as a pilot, but it was so successful that HR have added it to their standard list of training programmes,” he told the paper.
“There are pressures on working with low budgets. But, because we've achieved such a lot from five years ago until now and have done a lot on a shoestring, people are seeing that, if you haven't got a lot of resources, working together with common aims can still mean you can achieve much.”
On 19 November, the Business Disability Forum called for all employers to carry out disability awareness training to ensure they aren’t discriminating against members of staff with a disability.
Tab Ahmad, founder and managing director at EmployAbility, told the forum it was also vital HR teams had an internal process in place to give staff the confidence to disclose disabilities and seek adjustments where necessary.
"Even small initiatives, a bit of training, education for staff - anything they can do to let people know that this can be brought up has a big impact. It doesn't need to be hidden," she added.
People of different racial backgrounds are also still being woefully under-represented in senior roles too, although some organisations are developing to combat this.
Rare Recruitment specialises in helping some of the world’s biggest organisations hire exceptional people from diverse backgrounds into senior jobs.
Its mentoring programme, Articles, for minority students who are aspiring lawyers has recently been awarded the UK Diversity Legal Award for ‘Attracting Talent’ to the industry, and its Civil Service Summer Diversity Internship Programme has won several accolades this year including one from Race for Opportunity and recognition from Rate My Placement.
Rare also developed Google’s mentoring programme to attract more female computer scientists to go into coding, known as CodeF.
It is currently working on the Top Black Talent mentoring scheme for Google and its own Target Oxbridge; a free programme that aims to help black students and students of mixed race to increase their chances of getting into the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge.
Creating Diverse Boards
For those who believe the changes need to come from the top down, however, a number of organisations have called for the way in which we look at boards to be challenged - not just to include more diversity, but to ensure they achieve what a board is actually supposed to be for - to represent the staff, the company and its customers, as well as providing a layer of governance for the company.
Denise Keating, chief executive of the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion, told Huff Post UK a significant culture change is needed if employers are to move away from the entrenched position many boards find themselves in, and that this can only come from the very top of the organisation.
"Unfortunately, the current attack on predominately white middle aged men in boardrooms has only served to deepen their resolve – they don’t even have to overtly discriminate – just exclude people through their behaviours," she said.
"They are comfortable with the affinity bias brought about by working with like-minded people. It is not enough to put one or two women non-executive directors on the board; there has to be a pipeline of diverse talent developed that will support executive positions on both executive committees and boards."
Huffington Post UK has spoken to a variety of companies in an attempt to provide a list of practical steps all businesses can take to ensure they’re doing their utmost to encourage diversity in senior positions.
Here are our top nine tips:
1) Ask yourself what your board is really for, and what you want it to do. By doing this, you can see whether its current makeup can perform to the best of its ability - ie does it accurately represent both your staff and your customer?
One senior woman working in the technology industry, relayed to Huff Post UK her tale of challenging an all male board of men during a job interview.
They asked if she had any concerns, and she politely pointed out that as six Caucasian men in their 50s they were hardly representative of both their client base and their staff. Apparently, they looked visibly shocked, and she didn't get the job.
2) Do introduce mentoring schemes to encourage those in a position of authority to not pull the ladder up after them. Make sure there are practical steps for the mentor to take to encourage their mentees to step up to the plate.
Globally, O2 selects 30 senior women to participate in six-month leadership programme (between four and six women from each country) and provide them with board mentors, and get them to undertake stretch assignments and identify their own personal objectives.
These women go on to participate in monthly workshops and after six months, they become mentors for a second group or women who work at a lower staff level - spreading the knowledge, experience and confidence throughout the working tiers.
Nikki Flanders, the newly appointed managing director of O2 Health, took part in the programme and told Huff Post UK that it had set a positive and open tone which has meant that, from day one, the women had been more candid with one another than she had experienced on previous leadership programmes.
“Coming together as a group has revealed some surprises; mainly that our personal and leadership challenges are very similar. Every session gets into the gritty details to not only solve problems, but to grow and develop as future leaders at Telefónica. We’re quite forensic about it!" she said.
“In our UK business, I’m leading another programme, sponsored by the UK Board, focussing on women in technology and carers in the workforce. With 60% of people taking on a caring role at some point in their lifetime, it’s an important dynamic that requires businesses to put appropriate support systems in place, to ensure that we nurture and retain a diverse and talented workforce.
“I firmly believe that the programmes will have an invaluable contribution to both my career and the careers of others within our company.”
3) Do move the culture of your business away from being dominated by how many hours employees work in the office. Hours-related targets rarely achieve excellent performances, and it makes it more difficult for employees to take advantage of flexible working.
This can be easily achieved by changing key performance indicators so that they're reoriented towards contribution to business performance.
The Equality Human Rights Commission's 2011 Sex and Power survey, found one of the key barriers to women working in senior roles was "outdated working patterns and inflexible organisations".
The report further suggests that the assumption that employees must work long hours in order to advance their careers imposes greater penalties on women who are more likely to be the primary carer.
4) Make flexible working available for all as a default. If you alienate those who use it by making it women-centric, it builds resentment against the policy.
Businesses should be aware that a paradigm shift is underway, according to Maggie Buggie, vice president and head of digital transformation at CapGemini Consulting.
"One of the characteristics of the most successful organisations of the future will be on-demand working hours for all, and the articulation of roles in terms of their contribution, as opposed to time required to fulfil them," she said.
The Employment Lawyers Association told Huff Post UK that the Royal Mail is one company which has transformed its workforce using flexible working.
It received a £25,000 grant from the government, to which it added a further £30,000 to help recruit female managers in operational roles where shift systems had previously operated as a blocker to female applicants.
After reviewing the roles, the Royal Mail confirmed a number of the jobs could have flexible hours of between 16-24 hours over three or five days. Nine female and eight male part-time managers were appointed. Case studies like this show how money, planning and good communications can lead to quality flexible working.
5) Do encourage the use of minority networking groups, but be aware of the nature of some of them - those that are militant do more damage to the cause than good. The networks should put practical measures in place too, rather than simply being a place to let off steam.
6) Do start young. Apprenticeships drawing from a variety of backgrounds will breed not only good candidates for future employees, but will make it clear to all that you're encouraging diversity from the bottom up, which will help to avoid suggestions of tokenism at the top
7) Offer board secondments to help people from diverse backgrounds gain board experience and dispel any myths they might have about the work involved. Shadow boards are also a useful thing to have to encourage a breadth of thinking.
However, there could be legal and governance complications, so some employers may find working groups made up of board members and other staff to address specific issues, could be more effective
"They have a purpose in their own right, such as group wide best practice for safety in the oil and gas industry, but are also a good way of increasing exposure to the board for managers and so potentially supports diversity and succession
planning," says Simon Coxon, managing partner at IIC Partners' London member firm, the Curzon Partnership.
8 )Learn from your mistakes – when people leave your organisation, make sure interviews with HR are conducted to see if there’s a fundamental reason which is putting off minorities from staying at the firm.
9) Make diversity an integral part of your business, and not just an HR function. When the business as a whole take ownership of the need for diversity and it is central to all of its systems, it ceases to be a fluffy, nice-to-have option.
Michelle Fullerton, head of diversity and inclusion in Europe and emerging markets for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told Huff Post UK that her company had introduced the attitude of 'Diversity means Business'.
"Our business is about people and relationships, so we need to get the brightest and best people - it would be nonsensical to miss out on diverse talent pools. It's imperative to have a well communicated diversity case and it's got to be seen as business as usual, not just an HR function."