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When is Diversity Just a Talking Point?

By Melissa J. Anderson

A new survey by HR Magazine shows that many companies may not be taking diversity initiatives seriously. Based on a poll of 271 HR decision makers (chief executives, directors, managing directors, and managers) in the UK, diversity is an important strategic priority for the majority of respondents – although their motives for prioritizing diversity may differ.

Most respondents stuck to “business case” reasons when describing why a diversity policy is important.

For example, over two thirds (64 percent) said that diversity was important because drawing from a diverse pool of talent enables companies to hire the best people. Over half (55 percent) said diversity helps increase innovation, because it promotes new ideas and discussions. Almost half (45 percent) noted that diversity enabled them to better relate to their clients or customers. A third (33 percent) said diversity was important simply because it was fair.

Over three quarters (82 percent) described diversity as important to their business. Yet, a smaller percentage (57 percent) had an actual plan in place to drive diversity and inclusion.

Helen Wells, director of Opportunity Now told HR Magazine, “Employers seem to be saying diversity is vital, but what they appear to be doing is just paying lip-service; it’s very much business as usual.”

She added, “It is encouraging employers are saying the right things about diversity and equality, but how can they engage their employees with these issues if they don’t have a strategy?”

Talking the Talk

Over a quarter (28 percent) said diversity and equity were “the very core of their business,” and 17 percent said it was a top priority. Over a third (37 percent) ranked it as a high priority, although not at the very top.

Few respondents answered that it was a low priority – with only 11 percent saying it was not a “business imperative,” and only 8 percent said it was not important.

Despite the high numbers of respondents claiming they felt diversity was important to their business, only just over half (57 percent) said they had a diversity strategy in place, with an additionally 20 percent reporting that they monitor diversity but don’t have an actual plan.

While further nine percent said they plan to implement a diversity strategy eventually, 14 percent say they have no plans to approach diversity on a corporate strategy level.

This part of the survey was unsurprising – after all, many have highlighted the disparity between companies talking the “talk on diversity,” and those that are “walking the walk.” When companies fall short on implementing plans to achieve goals they claim to value highly, trust and engagement can fall.

Additionally, when leaders fail to follow through on diversity claims, that sends a message that diversity is merely a talking point – and people throughout the organization, like line managers and colleagues, feel they don’t need to take it seriously either. Leadership action makes a big difference in how messages are received and acted upon.

Wells commented, “Diversity needs a strategy and a route map. It needs to be part of a mainstream business process and people have to be made accountable.”

Diversity Priorities

The other part of the survey that proved intriguing was its discussion of what HR managers view as “diversity.”

For example, according to the survey, almost half (46 percent) were doing nothing about LGBT inclusiveness. Furthermore, 37 percent are not doing anything to address ethnic diversity, and 70 percent are not working to address inclusion based on nationality.

On the other hand, programs approaching age, gender, and disability seemed to be more popular. Only sixteen percent of respondents said they weren’t approaching “age” equality, while only 18 percent were not doing anything to improve gender equality and 19 percent said they weren’t doing anything to promote disability inclusion.

It is not surprising that some firms have different priorities than others when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but it is interesting that certain areas seem to be getting much more attention – age, gender, and disability are all more highly prioritized, it seems, than LGBT, ethnic, and nationality inclusion.

The survey doesn’t explain why this disparity is here, but based on the respondents beliefs around why diversity is important, perhaps they don’t understand the value in drawing from these talent pools or appealing to customers in these groups.

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