As a woman who has broken the glass ceiling, guest editor Sarah talks about why diversity is so important for business!
What does diversity and inclusion in the workplace mean to you?
To me, diversity and inclusion is about fairness. It’s allowing everyone an opportunity to shine and progress, regardless of their gender, race, sexual preference or disability. To me, it is about recognising talent and giving people a chance to have the career they want to have, with nothing holding them back but themselves. Diversity is about breaking down barriers and letting everyone know that anything is possible if it comes with determination and hard work.
Which UK industries do you think are making more effort to embrace diversity?
The hospitality industry has always been a trailblazer over diversity. It is hugely inclusive, embracing a diverse workforce globally.
However, that said, the heads of these organisations are often still white and male, so there is room for improvement – although recently Marriott Hotel Group made a pledge to support more women-led businesses, which is fantastic news.
Some of the more traditional white middle-class industries such as financial services are making great strides to improve their diversity, too.
More large organisations now employ ‘Diversity Professionals’ who have made awareness of diversity and inclusion their career. Their role is to advise an organisation to ensure diversity is embraced from the ground up. This approach is spreading across lots of industries now. For instance, at the recent Oscars, Grammys and Brit Awards, there was so much talk about making these awards more inclusive. If this kind of message is being talked about on that sort of global platform, you’d hope it eventually filters down to everyday life.
Why is it important to have a diversity of people working in an industry?
It has multiple benefits. Within a customer-facing industry, workplace diversity means your staff members can relate to all your customers. If you have a range of people with different opinions, then it makes it much easier to target a wider range of clients. Your workforce needs to match the demographic you serve and the population has become more multicultural.
And the subliminal message a diverse workforce has on people’s opinions should not be underestimated. When businesses demonstrate acceptance of ‘difference’, it helps to educate the wider population.
As an employer, you can also recruit the top talent if your job applications are open to everyone, and not just a select few.
There are certain industries crying out for more women to work in them like science, technology and engineering. What can be done to ensure younger women go into these industries?
Education needs to start when girls are still young. Arming little girls with the belief that they can be anything they want to be is so important. If we start closing doors when they are tiny, how on earth can they ever expect to break down barriers?
I teach my daughters that maths and science are cool. I don’t want them to think these are somehow ‘boys’ subjects’ and that they should stick to the arts. Their talent should be nurtured in every field, so when it comes to making decisions about their careers, they have the option to choose anything.
Parents, teachers, women in the media and business – we all have a responsibility to these future women leaders: to be their role models and to provide them with the self-belief to succeed.
I do think it is beginning to improve and I know lots of young women who have started to learn how to code, which is just amazing. One of my friend’s young daughters chose her four school clubs last week and picked coding, judo, sewing and ballet – that’s diversity right there!
There is still a glass ceiling when it comes to women getting onto boards in most industries. You have smashed it, but how can other women?
We all know it is only right and fair that both women and men are represented on boards and in senior positions, but it still isn’t happening. Although gender diversity in senior roles and on Boards is improving, the balance sadly isn’t where most organisations would like it to be.
You would hope a woman would automatically get recognised if she works hard and delivers results for an organisation, but this doesn’t always happen. Women need sometimes to be more strategic and visible if they want that promotion. Working hard behind the scenes isn’t always enough.
It is often useful to let your manager know you would be keen to work towards a higher-level position.
Women can sometimes be vilified for showing ambition; but if you are open and honest and ask your boss about the skill areas you need to develop, it should work to your advantage – especially if you offer to work together with your boss to set goals and objectives. Be confident.
Build relationships with other people in your organisation. You never know who may be in a position to help you or provide you with valuable information.
Also, try to find a mentor (or mentors) who you can speak to for advice and to share experiences with. This could be someone within the organisation or outside, but should be someone you feel comfortable with.
Do you think enough is being done to accommodate disabled people? If not, what should be put in place to make it easier for employees and employers?
There still appears to be a big problem with unemployment among disabled people, but it is improving, especially in the retail sector – and this is great news. Disabled people make up a significant proportion of UK customers and so it is only right that the workforce mirrors this. However, there are issues and, rather depressingly, some of the problems relate to simple infrastructure shortfalls. Loads of small businesses don’t have an office with a lift, accessible toilets or enough disabled car parking spaces and this can stop someone disabled even applying for a job.
A recent study also found only one in 10 UK businesses provides written communications in braille or audio, while barely a third (31%) have easy-to-read signs in high contrast and large type.
There is still a big gender pay gap in this country. What can be done to improve this?
I think it’s a disgrace that this gender pay gap exists in our country and it makes my blood boil! Half the reason for it is because many people don’t think there is a gap – but there most certainly is! There are some obvious reasons for it, starting with the fact that women are three times more likely to be part-time workers than men; and part-time work, on average, attracts lower hourly rates. To me, this is heavily penalising mums who want flexibility when they return to work after a baby.
Why should the hourly rate be less for doing the same job over three days or five?
It is a sad fact but there are more men in senior and managerial jobs and more women in lower-paid sectors, like caring and administration. Men continue to make up the majority of those in the highest paid and most senior roles – for example, there are just five female Chief Executives in the FTSE 100 and, despite being illegal, some men do get paid more for doing the same job as a female counterpart. It is ridiculous! Women might feel powerless, but slowly the change is coming and the most valuable thing we can do as females is to support one another and campaign for change. And educate our girls and our boys
that this is unacceptable!
As someone who has run several companies, do you think a mix of people is beneficial to a company’s success?
It’s absolutely vital. We all have different skills, personalities, ideas, quirks, social backgrounds, educations, religious beliefs, sexual preferences and appearances.
What makes a company successful is when all of those differences are put into the same melting pot. Businesses can’t grow if everyone within them thinks the same, acts the same and has the same interests. A company can’t break down barriers if everyone thinks the same way.
Different opinions in the workplace help a company grow and evolve. It helps profits too! A McKinsey study found that a company with a diverse workforce outperforms a non-diverse one by 15% (gender diverse) and 35% (ethnically). That’s a pretty good by-product, I’d say!
It’s not only women, young people also often struggle to break into industries because they lack experience. What can they do about that?
A willingness to gain some experience is a must, as jobs and graduate programmes rarely get handed to you on a plate. You need to show commitment, a desire to learn and a genuine interest in your chosen industry or field. Finding some work experience is a brilliant way to stay one step ahead of your rivals and get an accurate insight into what skills you need to succeed in a particular industry.
Doing work experience shows you have passion and interest and it will also offer the chance to network and make valuable contacts, which could actually end up by finding you a job!
Finally, now that Brexit has come about, do you think companies will start to
think diversity and inclusion is less important and go back to the old ways of concentrating on employing and promoting men?
I really hope not! I am deeply saddened by Brexit and it is hard to know what will happen. But I would like to stay optimistic that we will remain a diverse and inclusive country.
Although I think some EU nationals will return home following Brexit, having both UK and international diversity is vital if we are to remain strong as an independent country.
Industries will need to continue to demonstrate their equality and diversity, and I believe the workplace can play a huge role in healing the rift Brexit has caused across the UK.