The evidence is clear: the many benefits that come from employing a more diverse workforce definitely help businesses to thrive. Yet, even as diversity in the workplace continues to be a much-publicised hot topic, progress in many organisations has been slow.
The Office of National Statistics recently announced that employment rates for women are at the joint highest since comparable records begun in 1971, but this is partly due to changes to the state pension age for woman. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development predict that if female labour force participation rates converged to that of men by 2030, we could see an overall increase of 12% in GDP. Other studies have identified that increased gender diversity could lead to better decision making and increased idea generation.
Whilst companies are making some progress towards gender diversity, they also need to consider other forms of social diversity including race, nationality and age diversity. Diversity and inclusion often provides other benefits such as retention, employee satisfaction and the attraction of talent.
Accountancy firms have long been at the forefront of diversity and inclusion. Indeed, our firm has focused considerable effort on this over the last few years. I hope that by sharing our journey to date we can give other firms, just starting their own diversity initiatives, some practical ideas.
In 2016, Grant Thornton launched the EMBRACE programme, with a mission to embed diversity and inclusion within the culture and make it evident in its everyday interactions, both internally and externally.
The diversity and inclusion programme has six pillars; multicultural, LGBT, gender, disability, generational, family and working parents.
To understand how best to implement the strategy, a firm-wide staff survey was conducted in 2016. An area of importance identified was the need for more visible role models within the organisation, which included inviting external speakers from various personal and business backgrounds to talk to our people.
The firm also advanced HR initiatives around the six pillars and has been proactive in communicating statistics regarding the gender split within the firm and in promotion targets. Another gender initiative involved the investment in a tailored, female leadership programme, Aspire, which is designed to develop a strong female leadership pipeline and to acknowledge the valuable contribution of our female talent. It provides participants with the opportunity to identify personal drivers and required skills to help succeed in their chosen career path. Since the introduction of programme, there has been a 5% improvement in the representation of women at senior levels within Grant Thornton.
The Belfast Telegraph’s Top 100 firms in Northern Ireland identified that only three women lead the top firms. Evidently, further efforts are required to make real progress on diversity.