Are you just paying lip service to diversity?

Blog posts

2 Aug 2013

Mary Mercer

‘This month, I have been thinking about diversity and in particular the composition of senior teams and boards. There was a lot of talk around the time of the financial crisis that mixed-composition boards might be more robust with members more willing to challenge each other. But has this chatter actually had any impact on top team composition? A few weeks ago I lead one of our Masterclasses on diversity and in preparation I did a bit of research on the composition of boards. The one thing that really struck me was the consensus that, although there are some statistics around gender, it is considered too difficult to explore other characteristics (such as ethnicity or sexuality), and that was just considering the composition of top teams and boards in the FTSE 100!

‘What will focus attention though, is if it can be proved that diversity in top teams and boards has an impact on an organisation's performance. I recently went to a talk by Max Nathan from the London School of Economics, who has explored the optimum mix of top-team members from a gender and ethnicity perspective. His research, in a simplified nutshell, is that organisational performance is optimised when the mix is, as he calls it, ‘an inverse U’. Homogeneity at either end of the spectrum (eg all men or all women) is poor for business, and a mix is ideal. He found that a 1 per cent increase in women in the top team lead to a 4.1 per cent increase in product innovation, and a 1 per cent increase in BME top-team members lead to a 12.5 per cent increase in process innovation. Having women in the top team and/or having BME top-team members also had a positive impact on organisational turnover.

‘The challenge remains how to get people into the top teams when evidence shows that organisations still see their top performers as their young, full-time, white men. At IES we have looked in detail at the impact of performance management on career progression and promotion. Until organisations get these basics right that ‘inverse U’ might be out of sight.

‘In an organisation where presenteeism flourishes, those who work more flexibly will never get the promotion opportunities. Encouraging greater flexibility that supports the business pattern is good for employees and the bottom line. With this in mind, I am prompted to remind you to start planning for National Work Life Week from 23rd to 27th September. Look out for the Top Employers for Working Families benchmarking and awards which will be announced during that week. IES continues to be involved in the development of the benchmarking and I am a judge on the awards panel. The award winners this year include some real insights into how to make flexible working integral to a successful business.’

About Mary Mercer

Mary is a consultant experienced in operational delivery, project management and project direction. Her key skill areas include human resource and organisation development consulting, including flexible working, performance improvement, business process redesign and operational research.

Mary's philosophy is to deliver support that has a pragmatic and lasting impact, and she has a range of examples of how HR improvements can have a measurable business impact.

To arrange a media interview with Mary, please email or call 01273 763 414.

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