Diversity is not just a buzzword. It has been proven to have a measurable and positive impact on business performance, says Lindsay Gallard.

The evidence abounds. A recent research report by McKinsey revealed how organisations with a diverse executive board typically experienced above-average profitability – up by 35 per cent in some cases.

Meanwhile, other studies have shown how non-homogenous teams perform better, make better decisions, and are better at problem solving.

In recent years, improving equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace has become a key focus of corporate HR strategies. Today, most organisations acknowledge their legal and moral imperatives in relation to gender, ethnicity, sexuality and disability. However, other diversity factors that are less protected, such as age, class, education, and life experience, are all too often overlooked.

By failing to take a truly holistic view of diversity and inclusion, organisations risk building a community of ‘likeness’ that could risk their competitive edge: they are failing to recruit, retain, and leverage talent from every walk and stage of life – something that ultimately could have significant reputational repercussions and inhibit their ability to grow and evolve as a business.

Generating value by embracing diversity in its widest sense

By widening perceptions of what EDI should look like in the workplace, organisations can harness the true power that results from embracing difference. This could look like building on the unique skills, experiences, contributions and work styles that individuals from underrepresented groups bring to the table or re-calibrating the workplace culture to address unconscious bias and stereotypes.

This might sound like management speak, but let’s look at the facts. When McDonald’s decided to combat age bias and hire more people over the age of 50, it generated business benefits that went beyond simply being able to tap into a new workforce demographic to address staffing shortfalls. By reshaping its workforce, McDonalds was able to better reflect and engage with its customer base. A move that resulted in a boost in sales and profits.

A study by the University of Lancaster found that customer satisfaction levels were 20 per cent higher at McDonald’s restaurants employing one or more members of staff aged over 60, compared to those where no one over the age of 50 was employed. Plus, the work ethic and reservoir of problem solving and interpersonal skills that older employees brought to the workplace both enhanced the guest experience and elevated operational performance.

In addition to reflecting and meeting the various needs of the wider communities, businesses also need to recognise that labour market demographics are also evolving. With more people living longer and the state pension age on the rise, hiring managers need to overcome the temptation to overlook adept and skilled older workers whose expertise can contribute significantly to organisational productivity and resilience. In addition to this, having a workforce that is truly diverse, inclusive, and representative of society is more likely to stop employees from looking for jobs elsewhere and reduce staff turnover.

Of course, as much as labour market demographics are changing, so are the needs of that market. To support its new employee cohort, McDonald’s initiated specialist induction training, used recruitment advertising featuring visuals of grey-haired workers, and offered flexible shift schedules designed around the needs of mature workers.

Age is not the only arena where many companies fall short. Class, education and economic background can all prove potential hiring barriers that businesses need to recognise proactively and work hard to engage with if they want to truly stand out.

Prioritising diversity in the hiring process

Building an inclusive recruitment strategy is an important first step to building a truly equitable workplace. However, organisations will need to ensure that leadership teams are on board with why EDI goals are being broadened and what this means in terms of inclusive behaviours and goal setting.

In terms of practical steps, organisations should strive to:

  • Review the hiring process, leveraging diverse panels and different viewpoints that reflect the different backgrounds and perspectives of prospective candidates.
    · Determine the importance of unbiased job descriptions, initiate implicit and explicit bias training for employees, and ensure post-hiring assessments are appropriately framed. By constantly tweaking these processes organisations can monitor how effective their recruitment programmes are at achieving inclusivity aims.
    · Emphasise the value of the lived experience through the provision of internships and apprenticeships that address educational privilege.
    · Avoid demanding mandatory in-role or academic qualifications, avoiding bias-creep when it comes to determining what a ‘suitable’ candidate looks like.
    · Consider where job adverts are placed to maximise reach to applicants from marginalised groups.
    · Anonymise applications to make it easier to evaluate multiple applicants and check that automated screening tools do not introduce subjectivity or bias that would put some candidates at a disadvantage.

Continuing support for employees

Inclusivity is not just about representation, however. Organisations need to ensure that individualised support is in place to ensure new employees feel included and get the training and help they need to participate, to be productive – and to flourish. Some of the ways that organisations can elevate their onboarding processes and empower new joiners include:

  • Mentorship programmes that pair people from underrepresented backgrounds with more senior people as well as providing networking opportunities and other resource groups.
    · Focus on ongoing development and career progression for employees from underrepresented groups, ensuring that promotion is not reserved for those who ‘look and sound like us’.
    · Recognise the prevalence of imposter syndrome as people move up the ladder, providing forums and support where experiences can be shared and normalised.
    . Flexible working arrangements that reflect the caring responsibilities of employees together with financial and wellness education that helps people invest in their future.
    · For business leaders, it is important to be more formal about career development – there is a huge business benefit when people stay and actively develop within the company. You should provide the knowledge and skills for them to progress with you.

The value of broadening organisational EDI horizons

Taking steps to become a more diverse business begins with making recruitment as inclusive as possible, but the real benefits come from ensuring that continuous, consciously planned support is available for all employees throughout their employment journey.

Organisations will want to ensure that they do not just make symbolic efforts to tick a diversity box and hire a small number of people from underrepresented groups. The entire workplace environment will need to be rethought with ongoing support and development needs in mind. This includes viewing diversity beyond the parameters of the gender and ethnicity lens and placing value on inclusivity in relation to less talked-about attributes such as experience, class, and education.

In doing so, organisations will boost their supply of talent, unlock their innovation capabilities, increase their adaptability, enhance their reputation with customers, employees, and investors – and ultimately improve their overall performance. So, no, diversity is definitely not just a buzzword. It’s a necessity.


Lindsay Gallard is Chief People Officer at Six Degrees.






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.