BLOG: Does corporate culture drive diversity and inclusion, or vice versa?

By Martin Stead

“Last week, I attended the annual conference of the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM) Women in FM special interest group and the theme was ‘Delivering FM Success through Inclusion’.

I was delighted to be given the chance to share the story of the award-winning Abilities in Facilities partnership with the aim of encouraging others to replicate it in their organisations – a ripple effect!

However, I have to admit to being a little sceptical about attending a female-focused event and could see a certain irony to the theme for the day.

How wrong I was. There were, of course, men present and I met the most positive, welcoming, diverse and inclusive group of people anyone could hope for. The day was packed with learning from some great speakers and the organising committee deserve huge credit for the event.

After listening to a range of views and experiences, I was left musing a chicken and egg question. Does a corporate culture encourage diversity and inclusion or is a corporate culture shaped by diversity and inclusion?

Firstly, what is diversity and inclusion and why are they important?

Diversity is any dimension which can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. It’s about the ‘who’ and their inherent differences, such as age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and national origin.

Inclusion, on the other hand, is the ‘how’. It’s the organisational practices and behaviours in which different groups and individuals are welcomed and treated equally.

Is this still an issue in the UK in 2019? Jamie Quinn, of French multinational electric utility company Engie, told the conference that a CEO of a FTSE100 company is more likely to be called Steven than be female!

This should not be about ‘protected characteristics’ and the HR department rolling out a raft of new policies to protect the company in response to the Equalities Act 2010.

Research from McKinsey tells us those organisations which have a diverse workforce, especially at Board level, outperform their competitors financially. In addition, they have a better record in attracting and retaining talent, which, in turn, leads to greater engagement levels.

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace ensures a variety of perspectives are prevalent. Diversity of employees means the workplace will be full of people who have varied characteristics and backgrounds, meaning they are much more likely to bring different skills, perspectives and experiences. That diversity can result in higher innovation, increased creativity and better decision-making.

The evidence would seemingly be very positively weighted to the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce. So, how does an organisation ensure it is ready and able to maximise on this?

Returning to the original question – If an organisation has a very strong people-centric culture which supports a highly-engaged workforce, will that ensure diversity and inclusion is prevalent?

Or, does an organisation need to implement specific programmes to encourage diversity and inclusion and therefore supplement the organisational culture?

Thankfully, I work for an organisation akin to the former but I also believe elements of the latter can only help. Special interest groups such as Women in FM, within organisations, can be additional to provide support and encouragement.

An organisation starting from a low base or poor culture should, I believe, take note of the interventions made in our police forces. In the aftermath of the Macpherson Report in 1999, the Government set a 10-year target for all police forces to have the same black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) representation as the communities they serve.

This is bordering on positive discrimination which, quite apart from being illegal, is certainly not the way to go.

This approach is likely to adversely affect numbers of black and minority applicants and taint the achievements of experienced officers with the assumption that their employment is simply to address the ethnic balance.

Leadership is the only answer to making positive progress in this regard by establishing and maintaining the organisational culture.

Treating everyone fairly and with kindness, filling the culture with true inclusiveness and equality, is essential, thus nurturing a diverse and talented workforce.”

Read more: National award win for ‘Abilities in Facilities’ with Sewell Facilities Management and Mencap partnership

Find out more about how our partnership with Humber Mencap, Abilities in Facilities, has helped young people in Yorkshire, here: