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Andrew Munro, 26th January 2016

“The Inequality Challenge” was on the agenda http://bit.ly/1T9mB9z at this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos. In recent months, Diversity and the question of a gender pay gap have again been political issues, but how many organisations treat these as more than simple compliance issues? Indeed, is there business value beyond compliance and equity of pay? And, how can HR executives bring these issues and values onto the broader business agenda?

Those questions were posed to a recent Wilton & Bain Insights Panel by partners Tim Kemp and Chloe Watts. Tim is responsible for HR-related executive search at Wilton & Bain, while Chloe looks after HR-related interim projects for the WBMS division. The session was attended by HR directors and senior executives with an interest in the topics of diversity and inclusion. It started with a demonstration of Gender Gap, a powerful new tool from Compindex that allows managers to explore and understand their diversity data across a number of dimensions. The discussion quickly expanded across:

  • What are we measuring?
  • Why should we care?
  • How do we build diversity?

What are we measuring?

Diversity is, of course, more than the visible differences of gender or ethnicity. Indeed, it is more than religion, sexual orientation or university. The reasons for managing diversity are broader, too.

Effective tracking tools need to reflect the full richness and complexity of organisational diversity. Too often the diversity debate gets bogged down in questions of data quality rather than substance. Worse still, there is a limit to the attention that a busy boardroom will afford a hefty deck of PowerPoint charts or endless Excel. Tools, that bring a dynamic, interrogable and visual representation of the data can be effective in gaining the attention of senior executives.

“With effective tools, exec teams are quicker to get to the problem.”

However, moving from data pointing to the issue to delivering impactful action plans remains a key challenge.

Why should we care?

“Insight can take you so far, but when the issue becomes, ‘Show me why having a diverse work force is a good thing’, the debate gets more interesting.”

Some major firms like Unilever have found that gender-balanced teams perform better than either all-male or all-female teams. Unilever has made a very public commitment to building gender-balance.  Boardrooms and management decision-making which reflect consumer markets produce better results.

Companies need to be aware that diversity issues and their impact vary globally. In China for example, there are more female senior managers than male with a similar shift in the working demographic occurring in India.  What works well in one jurisdiction is not necessarily effective in another culture or region.

As Compindex’s Charles Mack explained, “Every organisation is focusing on gender diversity at the moment. HR and D&I directors like the ability to produce a single, standard report that they can give their board or D&I Council access to, anywhere in the world. It’s a cloud-based system using anonymised data so people can have access and play with the report before a meeting. Empowering people with the data beforehand leads to a more meaningful discussion when the board meets. It takes questions of data quality off the table.”


How do we build diversity?

Many executives and managers have a very siloed perspective. If diversity is not an “issue” in their team, they see it as “not my problem”. Clear ownership is essential: “If Diversity is owned by the business (and not by HR), it will be more resonant.”

A generic diversity programme will not be effective. “There is a difference between being informed and choosing to apply what you’ve been taught.” However, including diversity training within other development activities, can work well. Especially if it is aligned to overall business outcomes. Small steps are most effective and attitudes take time to change.

Great data is a powerful starting point for addressing diversity. One firm uses a single, daily question when an employee logs on to test the temperature of culture and engagement. The challenge is to weave diversity into ongoing business strategy. Be clear about any goals so that the organisation can benefit from diversity of thinking, rather than treating the topic as an exercise in compliance.



Wilton & Bain would like to thank the following executives for their participation:

  • Laura Hayes, Compindex
  • Charles Mack, Director at Compindex
  • Fleur Bamber, Account Director at CA Technologies
  • Anthony Bruce, Partner at PwC
  • Ailsa Donovan, Director Group Talent Development at Compass Group plc
  • James Hartley, HR Director, EMEA at financial services company TBA
  • Duncan Neilson, former HR Director at Amazon UK
  • Anne Pritam, Partner (Employment Law) at Stephenson Harwood
  • Nigel Turner, HR Director at Argos
  • Iain Slater, HR Director, UK Grocery at Associated British Foods plc
  • Devyani Vaishampayan, former Regional HR Director, APAC at G4S plc

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