Waseem Ali, formerly Chief Analytics Officer at Lloyd’s of London and current CEO of Rockborne, an arm of the Harnham Group.
It’s no secret that diverse workforces are the most successful. Any industry is richer if it has diversity of thought and businesses are sitting on a huge – and for many a wasted – opportunity to benefit from the value that a diverse group of people can bring to the conversation.
As humans, we all have different opinions and look at things in a different way. By bringing those different value points, and backgrounds around a table in order to make a business decision, the more perspectives you will have to draw from. Otherwise, you’ll likely be making business decisions that do not consider the views of certain groups of individuals and that is not good for business.
This is particularly relevant in my world – the world of data and analytics. Employees will have natural, unconscious biases that will influence the way in which they are scrutinising data. This doesn’t make them a ‘bad’ person – we all have unconscious biases; we just need to realise it.
Using different groups of individuals to analyse information will ensure that nothing is missed or overlooked. It would be dangerous to have a world where data was only analysed by one group of individuals becausewhoever they were and however well-meaning they were, their unconscious biases would creep into their interpretation of the data in front of them which would mean incorrect and unhelpful interpretations. That’s just an example from the arena I work in but it’s easy to transpose that into many different industries and sectors, I am sure.
So it’s not rocket science to see that different people with different lived experiences can energise and benefit a business but why do so many businesses fail to see that diversity is not simply another business chore, a box ticking exercise to promote a diverse workforce to the outside world but something which should be at the backbone of everything they do and everything they stand for?
Understand the why
While many are already recognising the value that diversity can bring, and may already be eager to make improvements,it is imperative that these changes need to first occur from within.
Businesses need to be honest with themselves and the make-up of their workforce, rather than trying to hide behind emptystatistics, by announcing that ‘well at this level of the business our stats are brilliant’.
As employers, we need to move away from this quota- based,mentality, because the reality is that businesses need to be making improvements for the right reasons to be successful.
In my experience, implementing targets entirely misses the point. Instead, as a decision maker in the business you really need to ask yourself why you are doing something andunderstandthe value of what you’re trying to do.
Don’t do it just because you think you should. If a business has an 80 per cent male workforce, they shouldn’t be looking to increase the number of females just because ‘it seems like the right thing to do’, rather itneeds to be because of the value that demographic will bring.
I may be a data enthusiast, but inthe world of diversity, stats are the last thing I want to be focusing on. Don’t get me wrong, you should look at the stats, but do not do this to simply tick a box as that isn’t helpful for anyone. If a business does do this, the chances are that you won’t get the outcome that you want, and that you won’t be creating any long-term change either. But if you believe in the value of what you are doing, then you are much more likely to go away and put time and energy into doing it.
Diversity attracts diversity
Once businesses adopt that mindset, then they can work backwards to make improvements – considering how they can create an environment that will attract more females for example. The idea that diversity attracts diversity holds true. Improvements within the hiring processes are crucial, but it also boils down to what people need.
Someone who has young childrenis going to have very different requirements to someone who isn’t a parent. Employers need to understandthose requirements and be happy to make changes because they understand the value that each individualbrings.
Talk to each other
It may sound oversimplistic, but we need to find every opportunity possible to speak to one another. There are plenty of resources and courses which will enhance understanding but that isn’t where practical learning takes place. Don’t overcomplicate it, just go and talk to other business leaders in similar situations or those who are doing well, to discuss their approach.
If you want a diverse workforce – and a successful one – you need to engage with a diverse range of people,it’s as simple as that – speak to different individualsabout why they would or wouldn’t apply for a job at your company, own it and act on it.Companies should never be afraid to have these conversations and highlight their failures if they want to create sustainable growth.
In my career, I moved to my current role because I was attracted by the potential for making a genuine change in the industry through improving diversity at the point of entry. The challenge of bringing more diversity into the data industry is our business’spurpose.
From a business perspective our stats are good – our graduate scheme has so far doubled and tripled diversity data and analytics industry averages by recruiting candidates from a wide range of backgrounds and universities. But crucially our mentality is that we still haven’t nailed it, and that helps us as an executive team, and as a business, to constantly strive to do slightly better. That goes for us and everyone else.
We have also learnt by listening, and I would recommend that it is hugely beneficial to cultivate a transparent culture, whereby all staff are not afraid – and actually actively encouraged – to make suggestions to the senior team on inclusivity.
By actively forging this open environment, you can benefit from the differing perspectives within your team and improve. Diversity is an evolving and human process for all businesses – confront it, value it and welcome it and don’t consign it to a spreadsheet or a recruitment quota – and your business will be a happier and more creative place.