How to introduce diversity into the workplace

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By Gill Plimmer

From the manager’s chair: I am the managing director of a high-growth media business that designs games, many of them traditionally very male dominated, such as football and snooker. We are expanding into new markets and our leadership team needs to hire new senior people. But each time I look at the business I just see blokes.

They seem to be acting out the stereotype of hiring in their own image. How can I encourage them to break the habit and introduce the diversity of different perspectives into the business?

Virginia Eastman, consultant at Saxton Bampfylde, the headhunter, says:

You’re totally right. If everyone in your business is white, middle class and married with a wife and two children, it’s hard to access new customers. You need a mix, not just in gender, but also in geography, ethnicity and age.

Your challenge is twofold. First you need to get staff to recognise this; then you need to get them to feel excited by the prospect and embrace difference rather than seeing it as a potential risk.

Invite industry leaders to talk about innovation and what has worked in their business, especially the role that diversity has played in achieving success.

When you are putting together the brief for a new role, explicitly state that you are open to candidates with a diverse range of backgrounds.

According to a Kauffman Foundation study in 2012 a quarter of engineering and technology companies founded in the six previous years had at least one founder who was born abroad.

That figure rose to almost 44 per cent in Silicon Valley – an important issue for the US government, which recently analysed the background of its Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to consider whether tighter immigration policies would put it at an economic disadvantage in the future.

If you use a recruitment agency or executive search firm for your staff hiring, proactively build diversity into the character brief to make certain that you are offered a wide range of candidates. Shift your culture and your business will ultimately benefit.

Think about finding additional customers either geographically or by expanding to new people such as female gamers. This will highlight the many ways that a more diverse team could help you “think like the customer”.

The World Cup is a great excuse to look at your customer base and ask if you have the right people on the team to exploit this potential.

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From the employee’s chair: I keep getting overlooked for senior leadership roles and fear that there is innate sexism at work and that they simply prefer men with swagger. How do I persuade them to take me seriously?

Katerina Gould, co-founder of Women Returners and executive coach, says:

There may be innate sexism at work, but it is also possible that so-called “unconscious bias” is present. This is where promotion decisions are based subjectively on underlying biases and stereotypes rather than the objective facts.

Although it’s hard for you on your own to challenge cultural unconscious bias, changes to your behaviour and communication can make a difference.

First, you need to raise your profile. Lots of women operate under the belief that doing a great job is enough to get you noticed and promoted. Unfortunately, this is rarely enough.

Speak up in meetings and remember that asking an intelligent question can be more effective than repeating your opinions. Put yourself forward for significant, highly visible projects, making sure that you don’t just take on the jobs no one else wants.

You also need to tell influential people that you are looking for a bigger role than you currently have and why you can do it. If they don’t know about you and your ambitions, they might not think of you at the next opportunity.

Enlist supporters and sponsors – clients and suppliers can be as helpful as people within your organisation. These will be people who think highly of you and will advocate your progress. If you don’t have a mentor, think strategically about who to ask.

Build your network. Although you might feel uncomfortable about obvious networking at work, the activities above will help with this in an authentic way.

Demonstrate your self-confidence and self-belief. Women can appear to lack confidence even when we have it. What women describe as collegiality and modesty, men can perceive as lack of confidence. Think about how you express yourself.

If lack of self-belief genuinely is an issue for you, you need to focus on your strengths, not on where you can improve. Make a list of all your achievements in your role, add to it regularly and keep reading it to remind yourself of just how capable you are.

Share experiences with female colleagues you trust. They may have faced similar issues and developed their own approaches. If you support each other, they might provide you with helpful feedback on how you come across. If you still don’t get promoted, you need to take your talents where they are appreciated.

Send your queries to: workplace.questions@ft.com

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