Julia Colegate-Stone, Founding Partner of boutique executive search firm Hurston Eliot, shares her thoughts on the importance of diversity and the business benefits to be gained from ensuring your business puts a priority on diversity across the board.
At a recent breakfast event the audience, of which I was a part, was asked to consider our own “crazy goal” for our respective businesses. The goal towards which we would drive our businesses over the next three to five years. I knew in my head what this was - I’d worked on it with my brilliant coach, I’d poured over it and our strategic plan with my team. As I struggled to articulate it, my partner for this exercise had observed and refined my statement, the product of which was a far pithier and ambitious “crazy goal” than I could have hoped for.
The individual with whom I was doing this “brain work” came from a completely different industry, running a business that couldn’t be more different from my own. Here was living breathing evidence of the benefit of diversity of thought, diversity of background, of industry and, ultimately, of brain power.
My own experience aside, it’s now widely accepted that diversity is good for business. Traditional metrics of diversity (gender, race, and more) are well documented: teams where men and women are equal earn 41% more revenue; racially diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by 35%. Day to day, my own business focuses not so much on these metrics (although positive gender diversity outcomes are a by-product of our focus) but on structural diversity – hiring creatively on a part-time or project basis, providing efficiencies to our clients and introducing them to untapped talent. Just like the diverse hires we’ve introduced to them, hiring in a way that is “diverse” – defined at its most simple level as different from the norm – provides a variety of benefits. Collectively they contribute to the success of those businesses.
We often get asked why clients are, and should be, thinking about diversity (other than it being morally clearly the right thing to do). Each business will have their own motivating factors and below are some of the benefits our clients have seen by hiring in what could be categorised as a diverse way – either a diversity candidate by reason of gender, or a structurally diverse role.
Accessing otherwise inaccessible talent
By thinking creatively, businesses are able to access an untapped and bigger talent pool than to which they might otherwise have access. Many of our clients initially envisage all roles as full-time. Once they offer an option of part-time or flexible working, they’re able to secure an outstanding candidate that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to find.
Embracing diversity = creative hiring
You know there’s a need, but not a full-time one. One option is to ask a candidate to broaden their skills and widen the role, making it enough to fill a busy working week. An alternative is to create a part-time role. By introducing an “efficient” part-time role, companies can gain access to this great pool of talent, which is dominated by women (in 2018, 41% of women in employment in the UK were working part-time, compared to 13% of men), thus increasing their diversity stats as well as meeting their business need.
Millennials (who are expected to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025) and those coming up behind them care about diversity. Not necessarily for reasons of equal opportunity (a given) but more for the conviction that working and collaborating with people from varied backgrounds makes a company more successful. 74% of millennials believe that an organisation is more innovative when it has a culture of inclusion.
In my old worlds of hedge funds and corporate law, I saw and heard of numerous occasions where a pitch or investment was jeopardised by a potential client seeing a deck or presentation showing an illustrious and senior management team of…middle-aged (old?!) white men. Claims of being innovative, creative, thought-leading even - and challenging concerns around group think are much harder when your team looks the same, sounds the same, and probably has more than a few shared life and educational experiences. Diverse teams help win business, and what business doesn’t want that?
Diversity improves employee happiness and, by extension, productivity
We are all told, from a young age, that everyone is different. Most (!) of us are taught to embrace those differences and we revel in them. We build our lives around our choices and our differences – at times we feel happy with those differences, at times we compare and then hopefully remember Roosevelt’s mantra that “comparison is the thief of all joy”. Businesses that embrace diversity, by logical extension, recognise individuals for who they are, for their differences – and in doing so do what most psychologists tell us is most important to individuals, value them for themselves, for who they are, for what else they are - not just the work they do. This acceptance of employees as people, with other interests, is understood to breeds happiness and effective employees - as Anna Quindlen once said, pointing to the opposite, “You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are”.
In my experience, creativity and innovation are inextricably linked to diversity – both as by-products of and catalysts for the other. Businesses that embrace diversity can feel confident they are future-proofing themselves, as well as reaping the benefits of a pool of talent that offers a broad and enriching tapestry of thought and lived experiences.