HR Directors pay Lip-service to Diversity – CEOs undecided

A new survey launched by HR magazine UK reveals a huge gap between the stated commitment towards the importance of a diverse workforce and the strategic action of the UK’s HR decision-makers.

Though 82% out of 271 HR directors, chief executives, managing directors and HR managers stated that diversity and equality were ‘high on their list’ (37%), a ‘top priority’ (17%) or at the core of their business (28%), only 57% had a diversity strategy in place. This is even more surprising as respondents are mostly aware of the economic imperative: Study participants consistently referred to the better attraction and retention of talented staff out of a larger pool (64%) and the increase of innovation, new ideas and better results of collaboration (55%) as the most important reasons for having a diversity strategy. However, employers mentioned unconscious bias of line managers to be their biggest challenge (69%) on their way towards a diverse workforce.

A study launched in Austria draws a quite similar picture. Researchers asked 611 CEOs to categorise the most relevant HR topics. Despite research and media reports on the increasing importance of Diversity Management only 1% of CEOs positioned Diversity to be of strategic relevance. “This indicates the need for different messaging and new forms of communication”, Diversity expert Michael Stuber comments, ”we need to be more specific about how D&I adds value to the strategic business agenda and we need to desseminate briefing-style information,” he adds. But the situation is not as bad as it may seem: other CEO suverys report Diversity in the Top5.

Looking at implementation activities, the survey reports that 46% of respondants ignore sexual orientation, 37% don’t address ethnic origin, 19% don’t engage in disability initiatives and still 18% don’t even care about gender. For long-time experts like Stuber, this hiearchy is alltoo familiar and it “correlates directly with the differences in size of the groups involved”. Instead, it has become fashionable to look at ‘diversity of thought’ or ‘work style’ – but which are the key differences that lead to diversity of thought, work style or perspectives? It is, to a large extend, the different experiences in life people make due to their personal demography!

Despite of promising intentions of UK employers and existing policies, the surveys point to a lack of strategic communication and business alignment of D&I. But corporate reporting is on a good way (c.f. story on EuroStoxx50 reporting).