For organizations to be successful, they have to stop talking about creating inclusive workplaces – and make it happen. But that’s not enough. They also have to populate those inclusive workplaces with a diverse group of people – whatever that means to them, depending on where they are in the world. They need to be cognizant that the two of those things together – and only the two of them together – can drive them to far better business results than they’ve ever seen before.

It was back in 2004 that we were first able to prove that, if you had more than 32% of women in the top three layers of your organization, you would have better financial results. Except those figures have made little difference. Although in some pockets we’ve moved forward – painfully slowly – it’s not nearly enough.

There are many ‘levers’ that we talk about implementing, but unless we implement them all together, and at the same time, we scupper any effects that the work we’re doing might have. You can’t be a little bit pregnant – just like you can’t do a little bit of inclusion. You’re either doing this work and pulling the levers or you’re playing at it. Here are the 9 levers business leaders need to pull if they’re serious about inclusion:

1. Watch your Language: If you put any group from the C-suite on a training programme and ask them to define inclusion and define diversity, what you end up with is a mix of both those things throughout. This just confuses everybody, so it’s important to be crystal clear what you are talking about. Diversity is something that, if it were possible to ask – and people were willing to share – could be measured. In other words, you could put a number to it. Inclusion is about creating an environment where everyone with the capability to excel can do so. You need to get specific about what diversity and inclusion mean, and what they do, and start to look at the separate effects of each of them on your business.

2. Articulate the Business Case: We have made statements for years about the business reasons for creating diversity and inclusion. We have used language around things like enhanced creativity and innovation, we’ve talked about increased engagement, we’ve talked about better decisions and we have given people the illusion that, when we create an inclusive environment, these things happen as if by magic. The issue is that we have over-talked these grand diversity statements. People are not listening any more – they are not really hearing it and they are not buying into it. 

3. Measure Wisely: Inclusion is often described as a soft option that you cannot measure. But measuring is critical – if you are not measuring it, you cannot prove it. Employment engagement surveys are a useful tool – with questions asking if people feel valued, for example, or if they feel heard. Obviously hiring numbers are also important but it’s not just about talent pipelines, it’s also crucial to measure talent velocity – the speed at which diverse talent manages to permeate through your organization.

4. Make the Procurement Director your Friend: We are seeing procurement get a higher and higher seat at boardroom tables – think about how they have held their organizations to account over things like modern slavery and sustainability, and how they have insisted vendors fall into line from a compliance point of view around those topics. It therefore stands to reason that they can do the same for diversity and inclusion. We need to get to a place where companies are looking down through their supply chains and insisting that they all meet a certain standard. That standard then gets upheld in the organization.

5. Make Training and Embedding Mandatory: There has been a lot of research suggesting that mandatory training in things like unconscious bias does not work on its own – it has no impact on diversity numbers. It’s no good running a great training program and hoping that word spreads. Embedding the training is crucial. The way to get results is to make it compulsory for managers to hold conversations with their teams after their training and discuss what they’re going to do to drive things forward.

6) Drive Through Performance Management: It is one thing to put quotas in and expect mangers to hit them – encouraging them to put pressure on your recruitment agencies, for example, by measuring how many diverse candidates you hire from them. But it’s more effective to encourage inclusive behaviour by driving it forward in your organization – you then find individuals going out of their way to attend employee resource group (ERG) meetings or mentor someone of a different gender group.

7) Ensure D&I and HR are Empowered: Councils, committees and ERG groups have a valuable role to play in driving inclusion but it’s important to make them accountable and not just an excuse to have yet another inspirational speaker. Ask them to draw up a comprehensive business plan and ensure there is a direct line between their activities and business outcomes. They need to be specific about where they can have an impact and build that into the business plan. Regular meetings involving all your diversity groups help to empower them and encourage them to look at ways in which they can make a difference.

8) Get Rid of the Bias from your Processes: Admit that every process you have – from recruitment through to talent processes – will be heavy with bias. By taking simple steps, such as looking at what the unwritten rules are and working out the levels of toxicity those rules are giving you, you can make progress with very little effort. It’s also crucial to identify the ‘pinch points’ of bias in your processes. Look at your criteria for hiring, for example, as keeping them to a minimum will attract the most diverse group of candidates. And think about how interviews are conducted. Build in a set of criteria you are interviewing for and score them independently.

9) Make Sure the C-suite Means It: You can’t create diversity on a shoestring. If your diversity and inclusion (D&I) leader has few resources in terms of people or finances, then all the good intentions in the world will not make a difference. Think about who your D&I leader reports into. If it is not directly into your CEO, you have to ask whether it is seen as strategic or just a ‘nice to have’. Creating diversity is like creating any culture change – the change happens because the people change, and that takes resources to make it happen.

These 9 levers are critically important. If you don’t have someone with their hand on every single one of them pulling right now, then what you are trying to do is to be ‘a little bit pregnant’. Doing a little bit of inclusion is just as much of an illusion.


  • Angela Peacock

    Global Director of Diversity and Inclusion

    PDT Global, part of Affirmity

    Angela Peacock has spent the last 20 years of her career working across the global business sector – from Asia to North America, Europe and South Africa – developing and supporting companies and leaders with their corporate strategies and leadership development. During the last 10 years she and her team have specialized in creating the sorts of inclusive environments where everyone can be heard and excel. She is passionate about getting organizations to understand the link between the creation of inclusion, the achievement of tangible business results and the need to link it back to the people agenda. Angela has a strong reputation in the global inclusion arena and has worked with boards and C-suites across many firms from State Street to Microsoft, Fidelity to Accenture, Lloyds of London to the National Basketball Association. She is an inspiring speaker – using storytelling, hard facts and her history to ensure her messages hit home and are remembered long after the workshop has ended.