Diversity Voices Interview: Jane Fordham, Founder Jane Fordham Consulting specialising in diversity, culture and leadership development
1. Jane what in your view are the major D and I themes that organisations should be focusing on over the next 12-18 mths?
I've heard said that there's been shift in D&I strategies from 'because we want to' towards 'because we need to.' Legislation like Gender Pay Gap reporting has hit and/or there's increased concern regarding legal challenges around harassment and toxic corporate cultures.
Optimistically, I like to think that we will shift back to 'because we want to.' I see clients, who accelerated their D&I following employee activism after publishing their gender pay gaps, then seeing the light and expanding knee-jerk gender programmes to tackle culture change and inclusivity, or 'because we want to' or we see the wider business benefit of doing so.
Building on this last theme, I predict movement from distinct, tactical diversity initiatives to a more strategic focus on inclusive leadership. I am also seeing smart organisations, lifting their gaze from purely GPG reporting, looking ahead to ethnicity and likely, disability pay gap reporting requirements.
At a societal level, there has been huge progress normalising mental illness so that I believe we're at a tipping point. I hope and predict, enlightened employers will truly embed a sustainable wellness culture in the coming months, to benefit their teams and their bottom lines. Finally, we'll see neurodiversity increasingly taking centre stage with more and more progressive employers, opening up roles for creative problem-solvers and data analysts for people with autism and aspergers for example.
2. In your experience, how important is it for organisational leaders to take responsibility for visibly influencing and actively modelling the inclusive behaviours that they seek to embed in the organisations culture?
Quite simply, an organisation cannot succeed without its leaders taking ownership of such change programmes and, actively modelling, the change, over the long-term.
There's the well-known example of Pepsi-Co Australia/New Zealand who had established flexi-working policies but take-up was low. 'One Simple Thing' was a framework that empowered staff to talk to their managers about the one most important thing that would for them, be transformational in their job design. Then, all senior leaders adhered to their own 'one thing' and did it loudly e.g. leaving to attend kid's sporting fixtures every Thursday at 3pm, they left loudly thus sending a clear signal that everyone else could do the same.
Leaders kickstart change and shape culture. They hold the key to embedding permanent, positive culture change. Public intent has to be supported by accountability, measurement and transparency at the highest level.
3. With the work that you do supporting organisations to create inclusive policies and procedures for recruitment, retention and progression etc…what are the key challenges that repeatedly come to the fore?
If we think about our task at a basic human level, most of the people I meet are time-poor corporate employees under intense pressure to deliver in their day-to-day roles. They will automatically look for a path of least resistance and we are asking for them to do something new, different, potentially uneasy. I repeatedly see obstacles in the shape of lack of understanding, empathy and sometimes, fear. People may lack the most basic language to begin to engage on this topic or to connect with people from different groups.
Having stressed the importance of inclusive leadership above, I suggest the next most critical group to engage, educate and empower are the line managers and/or middle managers. That is a big logisitical task in terms of upskilling.
4. In terms of the various glaring 'pay gaps' that are increasingly being highlighted, what steps would you like to see taken to help remedy them?
It's tempting for organisations to try and be razor-focussed with their scare resource, looking for a magic wand to fix that specific gap. That's a false economy. As we'll see many organisations reporting their 2019 Gender Pay Gap will have not moved forward at all since 2018, or, going backwards in places. There are no quick fixes. The optimum strategy as outlined above is to put inclusive leadership and an inclusive culture above all else. Put another way;
"Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance."
Your diverse outputs, your measurements, pay gaps and profiles will, in time, move forwards if your strategy and culture is inclusive. I do of course advocate, putting in place processes and practices in recruitment, reward and progression that reduce biases and increase transparency e.g. blind recruitment and rewards based on market benchmarking not 'your last salary' or a '% increase.'
5. As a D & I expert, what is the last thing that you learnt that challenged your thinking?
I love this question! Research from Boston Consulting Group in January 2019 across 16,000 global organisations showed that close to 100% had diversity and inclusion programmes. But, roughly a quarter of the diverse employees interviewed felt such programmes had directly benefitted them. This is on the agenda now yes, but there's a huge body of work to direct the resource to the areas of greatest impact. That's my opportunity for 2019!