At the CBI’s recent flagship conference, an Accenture seminar provided insights to help business leaders refocus their approach to diversity so the numbers actually change.
To open, Simon Fanshawe OBE, one of the session’s speakers, gestured to the ceiling to floor glass in the conference venue, pointing across the Thames to the view of London’s Canary Wharf.
“There’s a law firm over there that has more partners called David than it does women” said Fanshawe, a partner at consultancy Diversity by Design. Take a wider look at UK business leaders and you’ll see the same pattern, Fanshawe continued: “There are more people named John, David and Andrew in the top 300 jobs in the FTSE100 than there are women and black people.”
“Progress has probably, at best, stalled,” said CBI Director-General Henrietta Jowett, who chaired the session, pointing to “quite disappointing” numbers in two of the latest government studies: The Parker Review of ethnicity on UK boards and the Hampton-Alexander Review focusing on women’s board representation. Numbers for both barely budged in the past year with minority and female representation on boards at 2 percent and 27.7 percent respectively.
“We need to see those numbers moving again,” Helping focus the purpose of the seminar, providing a forum for executives to share their experience of identifying both diversity deficits — and their precise causes — and more importantly — diversity dividends, evidence that inclusion helps businesses thrive.
Accenture Managing Director Payal Vasudeva, who leads Talent and Organisation and UKI Human Capital and Diversity, said she looked forward to a future when diversity would be a “hygiene factor” — simply a good habit. “The question we need to be asking is ‘How do we create an environment where all talent thrives?’” she said.
That is a core aim at Accenture, where we see diversity as crucial to our global competitiveness. We’ve pledged to achieve a gender-balanced workforce, with 50 percent women and 50 percent men by 2025 and to grow our percentage of female managing directors to 25 percent by 2020.
During discussion, three ideas, seemed to especially resonate.
The first, was linking diversity to an innovation agenda. Diversity is about keeping up with change and future-proofing a business.
Another was the concept of introducing a “curtain” to hiring processes to counter unconscious bias. Fanshawe introduced the concept with the example of how the Boston Symphony Orchestra began asking musicians to audition behind a curtain in the 1970s so that judgements could be based on the quality of music alone. This increased a female musician’s chance of being chosen by 50 per cent. Diversity by Design is now working with a company who are doing away with CVs entirely — using them only as documents for HR to fact-check — and basing decisions on comparing competencies.
The third idea, leading on from the curtain concept, was “Think big, trial small.” Changing processes to fight against our unconscious biases can be uncomfortable, Fanshawe said, “That’s the point — to disrupt.” It’s not about changing all hiring practices at once, but starting by experimenting with a specific role or team first.