Tackling Diversity & Inclusion in Europe

Leaders today know that Diversity & Inclusion programs add incredible value to an organization beyond its bottom line. Successful diversity and inclusion programs within an organization can help the overall culture, bring new ideas to light, and empower people with different perspectives to add value throughout the organization. Although an organization may strive for diversity & inclusion, it is still important to know how to best enact these practices.

Hayley Barnard works with top-level executives through the UK and Europe on mitigating unconscious bias and developing and promoting inclusive leadership. A speaker at AESC's European Conference in London on November 8, she will provide tactical strategies that executive search and leadership consultants can employ when advising their clients. Here, she offers insights on how diversity & inclusion are impacting business in Europe.

Europe’s workforce is facing dramatic changes – an aging population, geopolitical factors, technological disruption. Amidst it all, why do you think it is important now, more than ever, for companies in Europe to work harder to ensure that there is a pipeline of women at senior level positions?

It’s exactly because of the constant pace of change that organizations need a wide variety of perspectives around the table. While that does mean greater gender balance, it can also apply to diversity of thought in its wider sense such as different thinking styles, a variety of introverts and extroverts, different socio-economic backgrounds. A truly inclusive leadership team will make better decisions and reflect their diverse customer base.

In Europe, there is also the motivation that the legislation updates are providing. Gender Pay Gap Reporting is already underway in the UK, beginning in Ireland next year and inevitably coming to Europe. Executive search consultants have a responsibility to their clients to help them navigate the legislative updates.

Lastly, it’s the right thing to do. Inequalities exist, and historically we know that without interventions, nothing will change. Why gender first? Well, organizations have got to start somewhere! ‘Diversity of thought’ is hard to measure whereas the number of women in senior leadership is a relatively easily-obtained, quantifiable target population. My hope is that, once a pipeline of women to senior levels is ‘the norm’, bringing other groups aboard will be a much easier transition.

Much has been made about the business case for diversity and inclusion. However, what are common mistakes that leaders can avoid when implementing diversity and inclusion programs?

The most common mistake I see is leaders not being clear about the ‘why’. Why does their organization have a Diversity & Inclusion program? What is the compelling vision for Inclusion from the CEO? How does that align with the company’s growth strategy? Moreover, can the Diversity & Inclusion program be easily cascaded throughout the company so that employees buy-in to the vision?

When these things aren’t in place or aren’t clear, there can be a cultural backlash against Diversity & Inclusion programs with employees thinking that it’s all about positive discrimination. It’s worth doing the leg-work right at the beginning of your Diversity & Inclusion journey to ensure that your organization reaches the intended destination.

Executive search and leadership consultants help organizations worldwide tackle some of their biggest organizational challenges. What are tactics that they can employ within their own firm to tackle unconscious bias? 

I strongly believe that executive search consultants have a critical role to play in creating balanced leadership. They can be trusted advisors to their clients on the topic of diversity and legislative issues like Gender Pay Gap Reporting. To best help clients, they need to first be aware of their own unconscious biases and the barriers to inclusion that exist within their own organizations. Both individually and corporately, executive search and leadership consultants need to go on a learning journey with inclusion so that they can, in turn, assist clients with their journeys.

You will be speaking at our upcoming European Conference which explores the theme of Disruptive Innovation. In sharing how difference drives innovation, what do you hope executive search and leadership advisory consultants will take away from your session?

Having worked with many European-wide businesses on Diversity & Inclusion, I’ve been privileged to have a bird’s eye view of what’s working – and what’s not working – in the Diversity & Inclusion landscape. I’ll share this at the European Conference along with a jargon-busting introduction to unconscious bias. I want to demonstrate the impact that bias can have on executive search and how to mitigate that impact. My hope is that delegates will leave feeling inspired and equipped to create more inclusive workplaces both for themselves and for their clients.