How transparency and psychology can help us bridge the diversity gap

Simon Collins
Detailed self-assessment can help companies understand who they are failing to appeal to in recruitment

BUSINESSES in the City have long been struggling to bridge the divide between the diversity we see in our clients and society and the make-up of our own staff. We need to change, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because the future prosperity of our businesses depends on it.

At KPMG, we recently asked our 11,500 staff to complete a detailed questionnaire on their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and education levels on a voluntary basis. This exercise has given us a detailed view of the make-up of our staff and reveals the areas which are problematic. We know, for example, that our overall ethnicity levels are favourable, but less than 1 per cent of our partners are black.

This kind of detailed self-assessment and greater public transparency is a vital component of improving our diversity profile, as it enables us to tailor our recruitment, promotion and inclusion strategies to those people we are evidently not appealing to or supporting enough. It may be surprising to some but, traditionally, public sector organisations such as hospitals have led the way in profiling their staff. It is much less common in the private sector.

Like many businesses, we have tracked our female ratios across different grades of seniority over the years. However, we didn’t see a real shift in the number of female partners promoted until we overhauled our partner promotion process. Stephen Frost, our new head of diversity & inclusion, who is well-regarded for his work at the London Olympics and Paralympics, has assisted us in replacing well-meant “initiatives” with the removal of barriers. For example, ditching the “first cab in the rank” approach to partner promotions in favour of considering our partner candidates across the whole firm over a three year period has created a more diverse promotion pool. Humans naturally promote in a more diverse fashion when asked to consider a group, as opposed to assessing on an individual by individual basis. Psychology has a big role to play.

This week, we published the findings of our staff profile, but we also set out detailed targets across gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability. Target-setting gives us a quantitative benchmark to be judged against, but it will be our ability to effect cultural change within our business which will make the difference. This week, we have invited a range of luminary speakers on inclusion to talk to our staff and give them permission to engage on issues which have perhaps been considered taboo in the City historically. Clarke Carlisle, the former professional footballer, discussing depression is one such example.

While big business might be in a better position to throw resources at the issue, innovation is also taking place in the SME market, as people set up businesses on their own working terms – be they working mothers or people who feel they can’t be themselves at work. Big business can learn from small and vice versa. What we all know is that we are happier and able to perform to the best of our ability when we can bring our whole selves to work. This can only be good for business.