Why businesses need to diversify their succession plans

Diversity and inclusion may be buzzwords for many businesses, but enlightened leaders are going above and beyond pledges, and putting their words into action
Business people dressed casual/corporate, talking together in large glass conference room

It’s been nearly a year since the death of George Floyd, which both reignited a global movement in the Black Lives Matter protests and shone a light on diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the world of business. 

Many companies at the time made very public statements and pledges regarding the level of D&I within their ranks, including L’Oréal, Barclays and the BBC. And yet a lack of diversity in companies, especially among the FTSE 100, endures. 

For the first time in six years, there are now no Black executives in any of the top three roles at Britain’s 100 biggest companies. And only ten out of the 297 leaders in the top three positions are from ethnic minority backgrounds, a number that hasn’t changed since this type of analysis began in 2014.

Companies may have implemented some changes when it comes to D&I, but it seems these don’t go all the way to the top. And for change to be properly effective, it has to start at the top, with the leadership. So who are the companies and leaders going beyond pledges and driving real, tangible change in business?

Money talks, so investment is key

HomeHero, a property technology startup focusing on digital home management, is one company that has put in place D&I initiatives that encompass the whole organisation, including leadership. Even though they’re a relatively small company, they’ve prioritised and invested in a diverse and inclusive workplace. 

As well as a monthly stipend for initiatives that employees then choose how to spend, which range from boosting job adverts in platforms for under-represented groups to hiring specialist recruiters, they’ve also launched the Future Female Leaders network. This is a network for female employees that hosts an external workshop each month, with the aim of acknowledging the female experience, in tech especially, and preparing female employees for leadership positions.

They’re already seeing some impact from their initiatives, with women now present across all departments at HomeHero. But the work continues. “Our organisation was diverse from day one, but that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels,” says Nana Wereko-Brobby, head of communications at HomeHero. 

She explains that the difficult part of D&I can be hiring for leadership roles, as “you want to make sure you’re not hiring people into stereotypical roles, men in tech and women in HR.” 

As well as having your CEO get behind and champion D&I in the workplace, says Wereko-Brobby, companies need to invest, so they’re able to put money into hiring recruiters, who specialise in finding diverse applicants, or putting in place training programmes to upskill existing employees, for example.

It’s all about the data

Another company that is putting promises into action is AnalogFolk, a global digital creative agency. In 2018, they were recognised on the FT Future 100 UK list as an “all-rounder” for their impact across categories such as diversity, governance and the environment. 

They invest in accelerating female talent by enrolling women in the Future Leaders’ Creative Equals programme each year. Many of those who’ve attended the programme have gone on to be promoted to senior leadership roles, such as creative directors and heads of departments. As well as getting women into these roles, they’re also involved in a similar leadership programme for Black, Asian and ethnic minority employees, with a focus on mentoring for junior talent and training for more senior talent.

These are just some of the initiatives that have had a real effect on both AnalogFolk as a company and its employees. Not only has it meant they’ve experienced an increased retention of their staff, but it’s also had a positive impact on the wellbeing of employees. 

Bill Brock, founder and chief client officer at AnalogFolk, says: “It’s all about the data. Workplaces must start their D&I journey by looking at their data. What data do you collect and what data are you missing? Once you start to look at the make-up and different life-cycle stages of your employees, you will start to build a picture of where the challenges lie.”

People are at the heart of business, listen to them

Siemens Mobility, a transport solutions company, is also making real strides in their efforts to be a diverse and inclusive organisation. They’ve put time and effort into their recruitment strategies, using inclusive recruitment platforms across all role types, to ensure job adverts are both attractive and reach a diverse range of people. 

The company has also been running leadership programmes for employees, which they’re looking at scaling up this year. One of these programmes is a “returners” programme, which aims to train and upskill employees who have been out of the workforce for several years. 

They’ve already seen a large improvement in their employee engagement, especially around how employees feel about D&I and the culture of the workplace.

Siemens Mobility’s succession planning is also currently being reviewed by a steering group that will oversee the employee journey, from induction all the way through to skills and training throughout the career path. The aim of the review is to align all work streams and ensure D&I is present in every step. 

Asked what is the key to driving change in D&I, Siemens Mobility CEO Will Wilson says: “People are at the heart of business, so make sure to listen to your people,” adding that not only do companies need to listen, they also need to be open to new ideas.

“A diversity of different ideas and voices will only make the organisation richer and more successful and, after all, it is our colleagues’ talent which will make the business thrive and uncover new opportunities for the future,” he concludes.