As part of the inaugural Diversity Leaders list which ranks companies in terms of their diverse and inclusive workplace, we ask four experts for their views on what can majorities do to make minorities feel included.

The FT has not been considered for the list to avoid any potential conflict of interest. But we asked Priscilla Baffour, our head of diversity and inclusion, for her suggestions on how majorities within organisations can make minorities feel more included in the workplace. She joined the FT in March from UK broadcaster ITN with a wealth of experience in helping to increase diversity in UK media, including Channel 4.

Priscilla Baffour, global head of diversity and inclusion, FT

Priscilla Baffour - Diversity and Inclusion head at the FT. Photo by Esan Swan/FT.
© Esan Swan/FT

There is no silver bullet. What many organisations do is look at the top of a list like this one, and copy and paste what others have done. But every organisation needs to do what suits them. My best piece of advice is to try things out first, then roll them out more widely. Conversely, don’t discount something unless you’ve tried it.

Make sure you listen to your people. Ask them what it feels like to come from an under-represented group and work at, say, the FT. Take the term Bame for instance: black, Asian, mixed race, all get grouped together under that. But the challenges are different for an Asian man compared with a black woman. When we talk about the gender pay gap, is a woman of colour included in that conversation?

One thing I have seen work very well is reverse-mentoring — that goes back to listening to someone’s individual experience. That can work especially powerfully when the more senior colleague sponsors the junior colleague and opens up their network to them. A lot of diverse talent, for example, can feel that somebody has made a compromise to hire them, and that their hiring is therefore a bit of a gamble. [That changes completely] if instead you say ‘we’ve hired this person and they’re brilliant’ and they’re not even in the room to hear it.

Having a coffee with somebody who looks different to you means not only that you will learn a lot, but the person you are sponsoring will learn what it’s like to operate at a high level. A lot of talent doesn’t realise how difficult it can be for leaders to make changes, which is another reason this can be helpful.

But this is still not a silver bullet because things such as awareness, education, and training are equally important. Lots of organisations are doing unconscious bias training, for example. This helps us to understand what our biases are and how to address them.

The follow-up, however, is essential because if you know what your biases are, then bias is no longer unconscious.

This is why you have to constantly challenge yourself.

Benoit Montet, international HR research expert, Top Employers Institute, Amsterdam

Benoit Montet, International HR research expert, Top Employers Institute, Amsterdam

What I call “Google diversity” is visual. It’s very efficient but there is little diversity in terms of age or social background.

Such employees, who are to be found at Big Tech companies for example, all look different and diverse. They feel fully included and their differences are accepted.

But they share more things than differentiate them from the mainstream: they all come from the best universities, have international experience and have travelled; they come from educated families and speak fluent English.

In sum, they already share the same social codes. We often notice that there is more difference that separates the workforce in a capital city from that of a remote city in the same country, than between two capitals of very different countries. Getting to know each other is often the best way to respect and understand differences.

The same is true within companies: the more awareness exists of minorities, the more likely they will be understood, and their inclusion will be that much easier. The unknown creates fear; difference generates curiosity and interest.

Best practices include awareness sessions, creativity in sourcing candidates for recruitment and systematically diverse selection processes in succession planning.

Many obstacles remain in the path of gender balance in German business despite the country’s powerful female politicians led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Hurdles include strong gender stereotypes that discourage men from taking paternity leave and encourage women to give up work when they have children. Campaigning by non-governmental organisations such as Fidar helped secure quotas requiring 30 per cent female representation on the supervisory boards of companies listed on the Dax index. However, there are no quotas for management boards in Germany.

Bettina Laurick, board member for Rhine-Main region, Fidar (Campaign for More Women on Boards)

Bettina Laurick, Board member for Rhine-Main region, Fidar (Campaign for More Women on Boards)

Everything starts at the top in politics as in business. Therefore, it is good to have Angela Merkel, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, ECB chief Christine Lagarde and Jennifer Morgan, the new co-chief executive of SAP.

Moreover it is simply not enough to include diversity in a mission statement. Rather, there needs to be a change in the company culture. This change can only be achieved if boards really internalise diversity and walk the talk.

We at Fidar believe that the best way to bring these topics into the board room is to make supervisory boards themselves more diverse. Quotas are a first important step to achieve that. But we cannot stop there.

There must be a genuine belief that diversity is an important issue, which then leads to key performance indicators that include diversity targets.

SAP is a good example of a company that uses corresponding targets for their leadership teams to reach their goals. As a former employee I am glad to see that SAP [Europe’s largest software company, listed page 11] is on a positive path. For that reason SAP was given the Fidar Women-on-Board Award 2019.

However, KPIs to measure diversity are not sufficient either. Management teams must be fully committed to continually managing diversity and inclusion, by serving as role models, and by pushing for diversity in all directions, upwards, sidewards and downwards.

Without this commitment, we will not succeed in these economically and politically turbulent times.

Erwin Telemans, Benelux director, Handicap International

Erwin Telemans,  Benelux director, Handicap International

Not many employers are inclusive. Inclusiveness starts at the top, with an organisation’s culture. Once the culture changes, things can progress very quickly.

Handicap International is a non-governmental organisation that operates in 60 countries to address the needs of people with a disability. So we are not just helping people deal with an amputated leg but campaigning for individuals’ full integration into society — by lobbying for legislation and so on.

Our own office is slowly setting an example. We are pushing very hard for diversity and inclusion and to make our practices inclusive.

Since I joined Handicap International in January, after directing a hospital in Tanzania, we have recruited two people with a disability, including one with a visual impairment.

The investments required are peanuts compared to the results — in return you get loyalty and an open working environment.

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