Greater Diversity Does Not Necessarily Bring Greater Equity
Thoughts on the Parker Review
It’s difficult, isn’t it? How do we know how well we are doing if we don’t set targets? To what do we aspire if there is no clear target at which to aim? I’m all for targets as a positive step towards inclusion. But they must be used wisely and in context of broader, positive action if they are to bring meaningful change. If not, they simply become a tick boxing exercise which does no one any good – and, in fact, can even be harmful.
The latest target setting to be published is in the latest Parker Review. Since being established in 2017 its various targets have brought focus and motivation to many to bring greater diversity into the workplace. Following good progress with respect to ethnic diversity on the boards of the FTSE 100 companies, it has now set targets for senior management within the FTSE 350 companies.
Well aware the targets alone won’t bring lasting change; the Parker Review correctly states ‘equal access to board positions needs to be matched by actions across all levels in business’. I couldn’t agree more but wonder how one can judge by targets, especially when also acknowledging that ’one size cannot fit all’.
Another tricky part here is that those organisations asked to meet the targets set by December 2027 are being invited to set their own diversity agendas. While it’s good that there isn’t an imposed ‘one size fits all’ set of criteria, this approach means success will rely upon a company setting an agenda which needs to look at the heart of its own culture. That risks companies setting an agenda, well-meaning though it may be, which is easy to measure and quantify? A target suggests a tangible, visible thing but, crucially, it doesn’t relate to a culture or a way of behaving and working together.
The notion of ‘targets’ runs the clear risk of stifling and killing the very thing it is supposed to be achieving: equity. If a company is being judged by who is in what position (and how many) it becomes a race to gain a percentage figure. In pursuit of this magic number, employers may fail to follow through and not look at the whole person nor, indeed, allow sufficient involvement on their part. If the target is to get the numbers up, employers may stop there. Thus stop short of inclusion and, therefore, all-important equity.
Giving some from a minority background the position isn’t worth much unless they are fully welcomed, included and listened to. Having a seat at the table isn’t enough if your views aren’t valued or your voice not heard. Yet this is what we must be measuring if we are to achieve equity at senior management and board level.
The Parker Review also cites ‘minority ethnic inclusion targets for the largest 50 private companies,’ will be set by the review committee, ‘given the significant role they play in the UK economy and society.’ The goal of having ‘at least one ethnic minority director on the main boards of each company by December 2027’ is, again, driven by a desire to be able to say, ‘Look here. See what we’ve achieved. We really are diverse.’ You can almost hear the desire behind those lines – but the language and the aim are not likely to achieve the wider goal of assuring inclusivity and equity as well as diversity in the workplace.
I know this as it is exactly what I referred to in our just-published Inclusive Companies IT50 Report. We asked questions and gained statistical evidence which shows a certain positioning of a company with regards to diversity. Our panel of experts search deep and the behaviour and culture of companies are revealed….but only to an extent. I went to great pains to state that even the top companies on that list, who are doing so much excellent and innovative work in EDI, are not fully inclusive.
Being diverse does not mean that your company is inclusive. And even being inclusive does not guarantee equity.
In the wake of Black Lives Matter we saw many appointments of black people into more senior management roles, but the reality was that few had equity. Their appointments were hollow.
Our own Black Inclusion Index from 2022 revealed the stark reality vs the perception where appointments were made to make the numbers look better. But the people then had little, or no, say in how the business developed.
There is a role for targets so we can feel assured we are making progress. However, we must not be limited by them as alone they are not enough. Organisations must look further and wider than ‘just’ having representation – this is just the diversity box ‘ticked’. Alongside this, inclusivity is crucial and equity is the true ‘target’ we should strive to achieve.