TL;DR - focus less on trying to poach the talent you need to make your stats look better. Instead, focus on creating opportunities and build a genuinely inclusive culture. Do that, and the numbers will take care of themselves.

Over recent years, I have had many conversations with organisations who are keen to communicate their commitment to EDI (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion) as part of their Employer Brand.

 My first question is always “why is having a diverse and inclusive organisation important to your organisation?”

The answers are varied but tend to fall somewhere within the following camps:

1. It’s the right thing to do. Employer with this response talk about ‘social justice’ or ‘being a force for good’ in their community or industry. It’s a feel-good response that helps put EDI initiatives into a neat box with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), something that is compelling to communicate to employees and candidates, but unfortunately doesn’t command attention with some investors and shareholders;

2. It’s good for business. I have to say that I applaud the candour of these employers who are honest about this being a financial endeavour. They have recognised that diverse teams and inclusive cultures drive the bottom line* and they use this to justify investment in EDI initiatives.

*McKinsey reports that “companies with a diverse workforce are 35% more likely to experience greater financial returns than their respective non-diverse counterparts.”

(Does the end product justify the motivation, I wonder?); or

3. We need to represent the community that we serve. Now, this is the reason that can often make the most sense to candidates. It is authentic. After all, public services, consumer products, and technological innovations genuinely do need the input of diverse groups for them to appeal widely and cater for different needs. It is interesting, since it can lead to story-telling around how diverse perspective can make impact. And, it makes people feel valued rather than a token figure.

Whatever the reason, I believe that the metrics that employers choose to measure success says a lot about their motivation.

If your primary success metric is the diversity of applicants, I doubt that your organisation’s motivation is around doing the right thing. In fact, I would go as far as to say that your EDI metrics are selfish.

They focus only on what diverse perspectives can do for you, rather than being a force for good.

Why? Because if your primary focus was social justice, you should care less about your own attraction and retention metrics and instead care more about reducing the number of minorities who are unemployed or underemployed**.

It doesn’t matter where they are, or who they work for, but that you have contributed to removing barriers to these demographics accessing opportunities for jobs and progression.

 If your strategy is about just about poaching, you’re being selfish

 After all, if you are engaging head hunters or recruiters to find you a diverse list of candidates, the chances are that these people are already in employment. If you hire them, you are not “doing the right thing”, you are poaching from other organisations to satisfy your own EDI targets.

Further, in your bid recruit specific audiences (“we are looking to recruit more female engineers”, “we want to increase applications with students from Black heritage”), there is always a compromise. While there is of course, valid reason and successes to be gained from these initiatives, it can further exacerbate other inequalities.

White boys from poor communities perform worse on average at school than their peers from most other demographics.

 The Department for Education’s 2018 GCSE performance statistics show that while the national average attainment score across eight subjects was 46.5, white boys who are eligible for free school meals score an average of just 28.5.

 Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups fare even worse.

Inclusion then, should take priority over diversity alone.

 The solution?

  1.  In society: genuinely create opportunity
  2. In your own organisation: start with inclusion, and diversity will follow

 In society: genuinely create opportunity

  •  Quit focusing so much energy on poaching minority talent from competitors and other industries - after all there are only so many black female developers – and find ways to engage talent younger, so that they are able to make the right decisions in their education that make them eligible.
  •  Excite primary school children about your industry knowing full well that you won’t get to reap the rewards for decades, if at all.
  • Partner with competitors and other organisations on insight days to challenge perceptions of who can work in your industry and provide work experience programmes that enable students to experience different employers to find their fit.

 In your own organisation: start with inclusion, and diversity will follow

 Focusing on attracting diverse talent is short term. Minority groups will leave quickly when they find a disconnect between the message used to recruit them, and the reality of the organisation.

  •  Review your benefits and policies. Do they cater for diverse lifestyles and life stages e.g. Menopause, being a carer, becoming a grandparent?
  •  Don’t expect everyone to look and act the same. If you invite diverse groups to the table, you need to ready to listen and take them as they are. This could be challenging you own or leaders’ views on what is “professional” or expected behaviour or appearance. Namely hairstyles, clothing, accents, or presence in meetings. These microaggressions separate the genuinely inclusive organisations from that wannabes.  
  • Do you have ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) and networks to provide support to employees? Do they have freedom and autonomy that makes them feel heard?
  •  Challenge your application and assessment process. Does it give everyone a fair chance of success? Does it accurately predict for success in role?

 So, with that in mind, how do you measure EDI success in the right way?

 Organiations who are genuinely committed to EDI shouldn’t be measuring their progress by the number of applications from minority groups, but by closing the gap in the experiences of their employees.

Consider exploring the difference between how different demographics describe the following in your next employee survey:

  •  Employee happiness: Is there a difference between happiness scores for different demographics?
  •  Share of voice. Do the women in your business say that they feel as heard as the men do?
  •  Inclusion. Are LGBTQ+ employees as likely to rate your organisation as inclusive compared overall average?
  • Culture. Do employees from all religions feel comfortable celebrating their religious holidays?
  •  Accessibility. Do all employees feel that they have a comfortable place to use the bathroom? Do employees feel that they have the necessary equipment or adjustments required in relation to disability or health conditions?
  •  Family friendly policies. Do all employees say that they would feel comfortable requesting flexible working, space to breastfeed, or having a conversation about parental leave?

  When all employees, whatever their demographic, are equally likely to have a good employee experience, an organisation is truly inclusive.

 Focus on creating opportunities and building a genuinely inclusive culture, then numbers will follow.


** Underemployment being defined as when a person does not work full time or takes a job that does not reflect their actual training and financial needs. The TUC equality briefing reports that “one in eight BME women are under-employed compared to one in thirteen white men”