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Why diversity in the workplace is essential

Why diversity in the workplace is essential 1

By Helene Usherwood


The Covid-19 pandemic has brought tremendous change and upheaval to all our work lives. But another major change of the last year has been the increasing focus to prioritise Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in the workplace. The protests of summer 2020 shone a light on many of the racial and gendered inequities in our society, and in part the real need to address structural diversity and inclusion issues in organisations, including at the highest levels of leadership.

Having appointed executive and non-executive directors to all manner of regulatory bodies and national health organisations, I now see a growing understanding of the value that diversity provides at every level of an organisation. It has been extremely encouraging to see a real willingness to review old appointment practices and develop new systems in response to those issues.

This rings true across many sectors. Whilst I have specialised in the health sector for more than ten years now, my colleague Ed Pritchard relates to these experiences through his executive appointment work in higher education and the third sector.

In recent conversations with Ed, he has noted how recruitment in the public sector amplifies the value of diversity and inclusion, with the belief that “headhunting in the public sector is a bit different to other areas of recruitment. We work to find better leaders for a better society, and the leaders we appoint must be able to represent and connect with the communities they serve. That is an essential function of their role.”

He added, “The desire to bring higher levels of representation to our country’s public institutions is increasing across the board, yet the gap between our goals and the steps we’re taking to achieve them is still too wide, and much bolder steps must be taken.”

The opportunity to take such bold steps is present in all industries, and it’s an opportunity we must seize.

There are several initiatives a company can employ to address systemic issues and improve representation. At the recruitment phase, I believe this means working with a concerted effort to identify the broadest range of candidates possible, tapping into new networks and reaching out to people you do not know.

At Anderson Quigley, our belief that talent comes in many forms and from many industries and sectors means that reaching out to under-represented groups is embedded in our company values.

Achieving diversity at the longlist and shortlist stage means we must from time to time ask clients to trust our judgement and consider the potential in a particular candidate as well as established track records – we firmly believe that the most successful candidate may be the one who offers the most potential to develop and grow.

We also work with companies to help them to recognise that diversity isn’t always visible. Invisible diversity is now finally being recognised with equal importance.

When we think about diversity, we still tend to focus on the characteristics we outwardly see such as someone’s age, race, ethnicity, or gender. But by expanding our focus to include invisible differences such as religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, and marital status, we shift the discussion around inclusion from “how can we increase gender and racial diversity?” to “do we have the variety of diverse perspectives to deal with complex problems and create innovative solutions?”

If an organisation wants to commit to increasing representation, it must be a collective commitment that the entire workplace actively supports. Using inclusive language, ensuring individuals don’t make cultural assumptions about others, and advocating for all types of diversity through increased education and awareness building are all parts of the process to ensure change happens.

The issue of creating greater levels of diversity in a workplace isn’t something that will get solved overnight, but such initiatives will only serve to enrich your organisation and improve your outcomes.

About the author

Helene Usherwood is a partner at executive search firm Anderson Quigley. With over 20 years’ experience Helene has appointed to senior roles within the arts, health and education fields as well as central and local government. Over the last ten years, she has specialised in the appointment of executive and non-executive directors in the NHS covering acute, ambulance service, primary care, mental health and regulatory bodies as well as national organisations.

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