Equality, Diversity & Inclusion: From Rhetoric to Reality

by | Jul 2, 2019 | The Inclusion

The Inclusion is honoured to have guest contributor, Mark Lomas. Mark is a thought leader, well known and respected in the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion sphere.


Is Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) progressing fast enough?

EDI is a broad topic and there is an established consensus that it is good for business. However, if you ask many diversity professionals they will gladly tell you that progress is too slow.

A quick review of FTSE 100 board diversity will reinforce that point of view. But it’s not just FTSE 100 companies or board level diversity alone. In fact, bar the odd exception, if you look at the senior leadership teams of most organisations, you can quickly determine that the people leading them rarely reflect the communities they serve.

So why is progress so slow? I believe it can be quantified in two areas: will and skill.

Behaviours need to match the rhetoric

Firstly, the will to improve EDI.

On one hand, it is fairly rare to hear a view from business leaders that EDI isn’t important. Leaders talk about equality, diversity, inclusion, opportunity and have developed strong rhetoric along these themes.

It is a long and hard road to transform culture, practices and behaviours, in order to support an inclusive ethos, and build a diverse workforce.

Many organisations seek to transform their organisations from where they are today to an inclusive culture, with a diverse workforce and leadership, without allocating a budget for EDI, or try and do this with little or no financial investment at all. They wouldn’t entertain the thought of approaching digital transformation in the same way.

“Being led from the top down” is often trotted out as a mantra for embedding EDI but many times it’s a hollow sentiment; because accountability is completely missing. I wonder how many readers can honestly say that their leadership teams have performance related EDI objectives for which they are accountable?

Leaders need to lead

At HS2, all senior leaders have a performance related EDI objective of completing the reverse mentoring programme. This is 12 sessions per year paired with a diverse junior member of staff from a different part of the business. This year 166 people are involved in our reverse mentoring: this is nearly 10% of the company. In addition to reverse mentoring; all of our senior leadership team are accountable for ensuring that everyone in their directorate completes mandatory training (including EDI) and attends a minimum of one EDI engagement event during the year, this is embedded into all staff objectives.

Our senior leaders are accountable for personally participating and facilitating engagement with EDI. It is part of the core performance expectation.

Without accountability progress is slow. The will for leadership to be accountable is often missing.

Embedding change

Let’s now turn our attention to the 2nd factor – the skill to enable change.

Having the data on how your organisational processes work, undertaking the analysis, and disrupting traditional processes is a key factor in success.

At HS2 we found using traditional selection methods, women and BAME applicants were more likely to be unsuccessful at the shortlisting stage. Having identified the issue we changed the process to facilitate improving diversity of hire.

The above data demonstrates disproportionate trends at the shortlist/interview stage for BAME groups. All other groups demonstrate proportionate results at the shortlisting/ interview stage. The percentage of ‘not held’ data for ethnicity at the shortlist/hire stage is 20% and for gender is 25% View the report. 

Blind auditioning

We continue to expand our award-winning model of recruitment called Blind Auditioning.

This is not removing the name from a CV or application. Instead, Blind Auditioning removes the CV or application form entirely and replaces it with skills based assessment derived from the job description, and is curated by the hiring line manager. Utilising the “blind audition” process, shortlisting success for women jumped from 17% – 47%. For BAME groups, shortlisting success rose from 14% to 50% – and this was all based on technical competence for the role. Results at the hire stage were also impressive with diverse groups more than 20% more likely to be successful.

You could say we treated recruitment like an engineering problem. We found the point of system failure and changed the mechanism to ensure it worked.

Data, data, data

Unfortunately, and all too often, it is the basic lack of data that means developing informed, focussed interventions simply isn’t possible, and is where many organisations come unstuck.

Another common factor is that those who are responsible for EDI often do not have the authority to make real change. This can be as a result of being confined to junior positions in an HR department, or as is regularly the case, are enthusiastic amateurs with little of the technical knowledge of equality diversity & inclusion required to facilitate the stated desire for change.

The future of EDI is to fundamentally improve the mechanics of recruitment, promotion, performance processes, leadership evaluation frameworks, procurement practices, communication approaches, digital accessibility, and inclusive design.

When both the will and the skill are available to an organisation then the process of turning rhetoric into reality can begin.

About the author

Mark, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at HS2 Ltd has delivered numerous D&I projects internationally, including with FRC, Lloyds Market Association, Bermuda Hospital Board, Groupama Insurance, The BBC, Highways England, ITV, DRTV Denmark, and The Law Society. Mark is a respected and published author on EDI.

Did you enjoy the read?

Sign up for our newsletter below to get our monthly insights email The Inclusion.