Are Diversity Labels Doing More Harm Than Good?

12/06/2017 16:21 BST | Updated 12/06/2017 16:21 BST

As the Founder and Director of the multi-award winning inclusive recruitment business, Shine Media, and now Managing Director of Hyden, I have unfortunately had a number of conversations where I leave fearing that what's at the heart of diversity and inclusion has been lost.

I encourage all businesses to embrace diversity because it will breed innovation - fact. But diversity, doesn't mean a Noah's Ark approach to recruitment where we invite two by two of each of the protected characteristics, it's about us creating hiring processes, attitudes, and inclusive environments that ensure talent are selected for a role based on their competencies and skills to do a job well. Talent don't want to be chosen for a role because they are female, black or Asian, or identify as having a disability or their sexual orientation (to name just four of the nine protected characteristics) they want to be chosen because they are good at a job and will be given the opportunity to be even better.

Creating an inclusive environment is your first priority, only once you have made inclusion apart of your business DNA can you really be successful at embracing diversity and diverse talent. Diverse talent, in this instance, should really mean those that creative businesses fail time and time again to engage with, hire and promote. If you keep hiring, old school friends, college alumni and hiring from specific universities you miss out on the talent outside of these networks. How can you keep up with the diverse range of consumers, audience members and customers if you don't keep engaged with all talent representative of those audiences?

Admittedly, I recognise that businesses are all on a journey to ensure they create inclusive working environments and this is a step in the right direction. However, while on that journey there are a few things from the language you use to the hiring processes you use that can make this journey a more successful one.

1. It's ok to use the phrases like 'male, pale, and stale'

Far too often I hear phrases like 'Male, pale and stale' when referring to the general state of the senior leadership teams or C-suite boards across industries. Typically this refers to the fact the majority of boards and leadership teams are populated by white, middle-class males. This phrase is then usually followed up by a comment on the importance of diversity and inclusion within the workforce.

Diversity means welcoming, including and encouraging participation and contribution from all individuals, irrespective of background. Yes, there's a clear need for more representation from a wider pool of individuals at board level, but that doesn't mean white, middle-class males are no longer valued and should be described in this quite frankly derogatory manner.

2. Diverse doesn't mean BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic)

By its very definition, diversity means 'difference'. I've had a number of meetings with Diversity and Inclusion specialists that have interpreted diversity to mean BAME candidates - I've been in a meeting once where the person said: "We have diverse talent. It's just our gender split, engagement with those with a disability, and those from a low-socioeconomic background that we need to work on."

To be diverse, you need to accept people from all backgrounds, that can include those from varied cultures, ethnicities, ages, genders, sexual orientation, and individuals that identify as living with a disability. In the meeting I mentioned, they didn't have diverse talent - what they really meant was they had people from various ethnic groups. Don't be afraid to say this; just understand that it may mean you're not as diverse or inclusive as you could be.

3. Your go-to Search firm will be able to find diverse talent

There's no guarantee that the search firm you usually use will have access to a large, diverse talent pool. So if they're unable to fulfil your needs for diversity, the question you should ask yourself isn't "Where is all the diverse talent?" but "If they can't find me the talent I need, who can?"

If you've had a great relationship with a search firm and they've found you great talent at board level, but it's always people from the same school of thought, it's time to branch out and find a firm that can deliver diverse talent. There are many out there!

4. Diverse talent isn't lesser talent

Hiring diverse talent isn't a case of ticking a box or accepting that you're hiring lesser talent; they will still have the skills, experience, and knowledge you're looking for. And if you believe that improving the diversity of your teams and business will damage productivity or results, you couldn't be more wrong.

All industries grow through innovation, pioneers, and doers - and these usually stem from individuals with ideas and determination. Fortunately, ideas and determination don't discriminate; you only have to look at the countless awards alumni from diverse backgrounds who have demonstrated this. Embracing diversity will help you get ahead of your competitors or, at the very least, keep up.

5. You need a separate diversity and inclusion strategy

If you're serious about diversity and inclusion, why have a diversity and inclusion strategy that's separate to the business strategy? If you're an inclusive organisation, inclusion should be one of your key values and demonstrated as such.

The key to attracting diverse talent to your business and creating inclusive working environments lies in how you operate and the values you hold. Having a separate strategy isn't enough - diversity and inclusion needs to be at the very heart of your business.

When looking at the diversity of an organisation, I urge businesses within the creative sector to strive for inclusion first, master this and the talent you engage with from all backgrounds, diverse cultures and experiences will thrive.