Guest blog: Workplace diversity – irrelevant or integral to the future of work and business?

Guest blog by Jonathan Westhoff, CEO, West Brom reflecting on the workplace diversity panel session at the recent BSA Conference.

Guest blog by Jonathan Westhoff, CEO, West Brom reflecting on the workplace diversity panel session at the recent BSA Conference.

Panellists: Sandra Wallace, Partner and Joint Managing Director, UK and Europe DLP Piper UK LLP & Interim Co-Chair, Social Mobility Commission; Arun Batra OBE, Founder and CEO, UK National Equality Standard and Partner at EY; Jane Hanson, Chief People Officer, Nationwide Building Society

At the recent BSA Conference a panel session discussed diversity in the workplace. All three panellists spoke passionately about diversity and inclusion being integral to business success. Having data to establish an organisation’s current position and to track movement against targets or ambitions being a vital first step.

Cultural transformation

Whilst progress has been made increasing the number of women on boards, the focus must now turn to wider diversity. Having worked on the Parker Review, Arun Batra, outlined the ambition for all FTSE 100 firms to have a person of colour on their board by the end of 2021, and the same for the FTSE 350 by 2024.  For our sector, whilst the spotlight may be on listed entities, the same business logic applies.

There has been an explosion of general interest in ethnicity in the past year, largely attributed to The Black Lives Matter movement.  Looking ahead, broader regulation and investor and consumer interest in the reporting of non-financial values will be key to maintaining momentum.

Reflecting diversity across all protected characteristics should become or remain a critical Board agenda item. It was noted that whilst there are now questions about the effectiveness of unconscious-bias training, provided it is integrated into other business priorities, it can still be of benefit.

I was particularly interested to hear Arun reflect that organisations which at an early stage of their diversity and inclusion journey talk about ‘treating everyone the same’. He suggested instead that success is achieved when diversity and inclusion is seen as part of a broader cultural transformation, where there is recognition of the barriers some individuals face and what can be done to remove them to create a culture of equality. 

Social mobility

Sandra Wallace, reflecting on her own start in life and the lack of expectation she faced, raised the importance of social mobility and the need and benefits to be gained by harnessing talent from all communities, irrespective of an individual’s background. In doing this the skills gap could be filled, and by 2030 a substantial amount could be added to UK economic output.

A great place to start to address social mobility is by improving community outreach and providing work experience, apprenticeships and internships. Offering such schemes to schools that have a high proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals is especially beneficial.

The Social Mobility Commission provides a free toolkit for financial services organisations, including guidance on how to track social mobility and the positive steps that can be taken to improve representation. 

Creating safe spaces to speak up

Jane Hanson added insight on the approach to inclusion and diversity at Nationwide. By creating safe spaces to speak up, listening to the issues and confronting behaviours and blockers that are embedded in the organisation ensures this topic remains front of mind and a regular discussion point for the Board. She highlighted that whilst there is considerable focus on gender and ethnicity it was critically important that all aspects of diversity are recognised, particularly those that are not immediately visible.

Nationwide’s mission is to create an inclusive culture where everyone can thrive and for the Society to reflect the communities it serves.

Business critical

It was clear from the discussion that diversity and inclusion is as important to a business as setting the strategic vision, budgets and sales targets and that collecting data based on outcomes is critical, but shouldn’t never be over-complicated.


Next steps:

Social Mobility Commission toolkit

The Parker Review New Parker Review report reveals ‘slow progress’ on ethnic diversity of FTSE boards | EY UK