How to Make C-Suite and Middle Management More Diverse

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Building any aspect of a culture starts from the top, and the story is no different with diversity.

Most organisations today are striving to create more inclusive workplaces. However, the data shows that a great deal of the visible results of these efforts end when you look to the demographics of leadership teams. 

In the UK, women make up around 52% of the workforce yet are still significantly underrepresented at C-suite level, with no sign of improvement. For example, Statista research calculated no increase in the number of women CEOs at FTSE companies between the years of 2016 and 2021.

Similarly, the Green Park Business Leaders Index 2021, found that in the upper echelons of Britain’s top companies only 3.7% leaders in the top 3 roles have ethnic minority backgrounds. Gender and ethnic diversity in the leadership pipeline were also shown to be in decline, while white males dominate the Digital, Data & Technology (76%), Governance & Operations (73%) Commercial & procurement (71%) and Finance (69%) functions – which all offer more direct career pathways to the top. 

With this research in mind, enacting a strategy to increase equity in management and C-Suite is a top priority for many organisations. It can be overwhelming when looking for a good place to start, and co-ordinating your areas of focus to ensure you do something which will count in the long-term – which is why we’ve broken down three key steps you can make. 

Engagement For Effective Allyship 

While many organisations today endeavour to be inclusive, sometimes there are gaps in their understanding of what will make an impact. 

The Women in the Workplace 2021 report showed that while more white employees see themselves as allies, few are taking action. To make matters worse, there is a disconnect between what white employees think effective allyship looks like and what women of colour say actually uplifts them. Further mandatory diversity training is what many HR teams understandably first jump to when attempting to remedy this issue. But does this make the desperately needed difference?

We’ve already seen that this isn’t translating to a visible improvement in the workplace, at least in terms of increasing diversity. Additionally, some studies even indicate these courses are met with resistance and resentment. The studies suggest this is in part due to the negative messaging which dominates these courses – for example, telling story after story of organisation’s being hit with lawsuits. This causes the training to take on a ‘threatening’ tone, and the research comes to the conclusion that ‘negative incentives’ don’t successfully convert people to new ways of thinking, and can even push them to do the opposite.

The behavioural science of how to hack people’s unconscious bias suggests a different route. Research shows that when someone’s beliefs and behaviour are out of sync, that person experiences what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.” In Psychology, cognitive dissonance refers to the perception of contradictory information and how people mentally cope with it. In this context, it applies to how people who have biased or discriminatory opinions – whether those be conscious or not – and how they can overcome these prejudices. By putting people in situations where they act against their biases, their beliefs can start to shift.

Experiments show that people have a strong tendency to “correct” dissonance by changing either the beliefs or the behaviour. So, if you prompt them to act in ways that support a particular view, their opinions shift toward that view, and they’ll engage with the activity behind it.

Mentoring programmes specifically for diverse talent are an example of this. In teaching their mentees from diverse backgrounds the ropes and sponsoring them for key training and assignments, mentors help give their charges the breaks they need to develop and advance. But most crucially, after pouring their time, resources, and effort into these new recruits, mentors who may hold subconscious bias come to believe that their mentees merit these opportunities. 

Another key player in this is for the mentors to be invited. Research suggests that managers taking part in recruitment programmes targeting women and minorities would be more enthusiastic and likely to participate when involvement was voluntary and the message framed positively – “Help us hone the talent of our upcoming leaders!”

The Make or Break of Your Employee Value Proposition 

Does your company offer working model flexibility?

If you are strict on your people being in office then you run the risk of excluding people who cannot afford the commute, or the cost of living which often comes with the metropolitan areas many companies choose to locate their offices. Similarly, if there is no room for personalised working hours you exclude talent that may have conflicting obligations – such as childcare (which often falls on women). 

Look at your interview process. Do the people on your hiring panel all look the same, or do your interviewers represent the diversity you’d like to see on your team? Similarity bias can cause significant issues in your hiring process, as it causes people to favour those who they share a particular characteristic or trait with – including race, gender, age, education – and the experiences which come with them. Even if you don’t currently have as much diversity in-house as you would like, diversifying your interview panel as much as you are able can still make a difference.

In our interview with neurodiversity advocate, Robyn Clarke, she shared advice on how interview processes can be made more inclusive to neurodiverse individuals. Read more here.

Set Targeted Retention Goals 

Recruitment means nothing if you’re unable to keep your diverse talent onboard. 

If DEI is a business imperative, your organisation should have a clear idea of how well your performance is with regard to retaining staff with diverse backgrounds.  

Once you have clear goals and easy to access data, your HR team can get an informative picture on where you can improve, and how to reach the goals you have set. The data is crucial in this as it acts as your illuminator into the facts of your business’ inclusivity, and the effectiveness of your historic efforts to improve it.  

The importance of the data is illustrated by the case of RCPCH, who were able to fill more than 25% of their middle management roles with candidates from diverse backgrounds, far exceeding their target for 2022 which stood at 15%. This was after identifying that they had a lot of staff from ethnic minorities in junior roles, but they weren’t seeing that spread into middle or senior management positions. 

Utilising XCD’s data and reporting with over 52 key performance indicators allowing their team insight into the issue, Louise Beauchamp shared that RCPCH identified they “just weren’t attracting applicants from all backgrounds for these positions. Being able to see this clearly meant that we could tailor our recruitment campaigns specifically to be more inclusive”.

There is a long way to go in terms of C-Suite and middle management diversity, and progress has been stalled. It is becoming clear that an updated approach is needed – but to make a positive change and deliver it long term it must be informed by the right data.

While research is out there for organisations to access, to create strategies bespoke to their business, HR teams need to be able to easily access the analytics and insights of their own people. RCPCH is a proven example of how the right tech is key in this endeavour, and for them, we are proud to say this was XCD.