Diversity and inclusion (DE&I) has shot up the priority list for many organisations, with business leaders realising that, in order to build strong enterprises, they need workforces who reflect the customers they’re servicing.

With this in mind, it was a pleasure to host “Discussing Diversity,” a panel event held in partnership with GfK and Kobalt Music, facilitated by CEO and co-founder of the Tech Talent Charter Debbie Forster MBE. Debbie was joined on the panel by: Jessica Cecil, Director of the BBC’s Online Project; Ben Jones, CTD at GfK; Tessa Clarke, co-founder of OLIO; Oliver Beach, CEO of Futureproof and chair of Out in Tech London; Jacqui Lloyd, apprenticeship lead at Citi; and Kelly Vickery, employer branding manager at Kobalt.

The need for greater diversity

Growing concerns around D&I have led many businesses to rush their diversity initiatives. While the eagerness to create a diverse organisation is to be commended, the need for speed can lead to “box-ticking,” with businesses filling quotas and considering the job complete.

However, this approach is short-sighted. Diverse hires will not remain at an organisation which does not have an inclusive culture. The positive impact of diversity on the bottom line is well documented, but this impact won’t be felt if the business cannot retain these staff.

What’s more, without diverse voices in the meeting room, businesses will fail to reflect their customer base, appeal to a broad range of demographics and broaden their potential market.

With many organisations still at the start of their D&I journey, our panel discussed what organisations can learn from one another on the way.

Build an inclusive culture first

Culture plays a huge role in promoting DE&I, which means Inclusion needs to be at the heart of strategy. The common epithet is that ‘Diversity is inviting people to a party. Inclusion is asking them to dance,’ or as one panellist put it – “diversity is a reality. But inclusion is a choice.”

This means assessing and changing current ways of working in order to best suit each individual, and building an environment which allows everyone to thrive. We can see the beginnings of this in the increasing number of businesses offering a “remote-first” policy on flexible working, making it easier for people to work in a way which accommodates their lives.

However, it could go further, and luckily there are organisations around to help drive the initiative. Debbie’s Tech Talent Charter is a commitment organisations can undertake to deliver greater parity amongst their technical staff, while the Valuable 500 has recently launched a similar mission specifically focused on disability and neurodiversity in the workplace.

The role of allies

Because people are fearful of offending and saying the wrong thing, they sometimes fail to say anything at all. In fact, an important part of inclusion is the role of allies in supporting marginalised groups.

Individuals should feel able to support minority candidates in their organisation, and safe spaces where those inside and outside of diverse groups can have difficult conversations are key. As one panellist put it: “there is no point in having conversations in isolation.”

Where next?

The first step needs to be assessing the diverse needs of your organisation. Businesses can begin by learning more about their employees, how diverse are they, what are their specific needs and wants when it comes to DE&I and how inclusive they feel the organisation is.

The role of leaders is vital to highlight the importance of these initiatives, and those in senior positions must be seen to be the driving force behind D&I plans.

Finishing on a high, panellists explained that the time is ripe for change – as demonstrated by the number of companies signing up to the Tech Talent Charter in the past few years. Though there’s still a long road ahead, many have taken the first steps – and we look forward to seeing a more inclusive future.

I’m Claudia, Head of Client Services at La Fosse Associates. If you’d like to learn more about this or future events, or discuss driving diverse hiring in your organisation, get in touch: Claudia.cohen@lafosse.com or tillie.hands@lafosse.com

If you want to read more on Diversity in the workplace, check out these blogs:

10 Ways to Overcome the Diversity Challenge