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CBI: Companies must take action and show leadership to make workplaces more inclusive

Business leaders must renew focus on making workplaces inclusive to staff.

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Businesses should be prioritising effective leadership, employee engagement and inclusive recruitment practices to attract and develop their staff, CBI President Paul Drechsler will say in a speech to the Engage for Success Conference in London.

With the UK ranking ninth for levels of employee engagement out of the 12 largest economies, the CBI is launching a new report ‘Time for Action: the business case for inclusive workplaces’.  The report highlights a number of firms from across UK who have put inclusion at the heart of their business and established good practice which has led to a more engaged and productive workforce.

The report also makes a series of recommendations to help companies take action:

  • Where possible, businesses should offer flexible working from job advert onwards
  • Businesses should consider using name-blind recruitment and extending competency based assessment to challenge unconscious bias
  • Managers’ performance appraisals must give weight to their roles in developing staff as well as short-term commercial performance
  • Businesses should set tailored, voluntary targets to improve diversity and hold leaders responsible for plans to achieve them.

Read Time for Action: the business case for inclusive workplaces

On the business case for inclusion, Paul will say:

“Great business is all about hiring, developing and leading great people. With UK productivity second from bottom of the G7, employee engagement is now more than ever crucial to driving productivity.  But here too there’s a problem.  Of the world’s 12 largest economies the UK ranks ninth for levels of engagement.  

“Raising engagement isn’t about slapping another zero on the budget for the staff Christmas party.  It’s a complex process which takes time and hard work.

“Inclusive workplaces give firms the chance to get ahead of their competitors by making better decisions, through diverse teams which draw on a wider range of ideas and experiences. Companies that place inclusion at their heart are better able to secure the skills that their competitors miss out on and better able to keep the people their competitors lose.

“Inclusion isn’t a minority issue, it’s a majority issue that can benefit all people and all firms. Ultimately, every employee can benefit from more flexible working and better decision-making. This is the real business case for inclusion and making progress means asking fundamental questions about how we work.

“Many business leaders are already leading from the front and there are many great stories of what’s already happening across the UK.

On recruitment practices, Paul will say:

“Inclusive recruitment gives every firm the chance to recruit more people with the skills they need. And this needs to run through every part of a business from board level to entry level.

“It’s important that, especially for people starting out, the application process provides a level playing-field. When I’m hiring someone I don’t want them to tell me what they’ve done. I want them to show me what they’ve learnt from it.

“Unconscious bias is another big challenge.  The first time many come into contact with this in the workplace is during job applications. One of the ways of tackling this is name-blind applications, removing criteria that could unintentionally bias managers and give under-represented groups confidence that their application will be fairly considered.

“Flexible working can be a vital enabler too. It’s time we stopped seeing flexible working as a ‘bonus for staff’ and started seeing it as something which has clear benefits for employers and employees alike.  It helps everyone balance their working lives not just with their responsibilities as parents or carers but also with their wellbeing and interests outside of work.

On inclusive leadership, Paul will say:

“Business leaders must make inclusion part of their employee relations strategy.  Above all, it’s about accountability that starts at the top and stays at the top.

“In business, ‘what’s measured is managed’ and leaders should set stretching targets to embrace difference within their organisation.  This isn’t about setting objectives, sending them to HR to sort out and forgetting about them until next year. It’s about setting a target which is right for that organisation and then leading the charge to achieve it.

“Ultimately, targets should be seen as something not driven by pressures from outside a business but by a real desire within a business to seize the benefits of inclusion for engagement and productivity.”

On the role of managers, Paul will say:

“Inclusion isn’t just about the people at the very top - it’s also about great managers.  Measuring managers’ performance on their ability to spot talent, develop people and lead high-performing teams is so important.

“More businesses need to incentivise managers in this way. Discussing development will be new to some managers and they will need support while adjusting to this new priority.  In practice, they should empower employees to take charge of their careers by helping them understand the different directions that their career could take.”

On inclusive workplaces, Paul will say:

“An inclusive workplace isn’t about a specific group.  It’s a workplace where everyone can be themselves, be treated fairly for their contribution and perform to the best of their ability. Inclusive workplaces make better decisions, through diverse teams which draw on a wider range of ideas and experiences.

“As more firms sign up to the business case, the way they view inclusion is changing, from a box to tick to a competitive edge. From something companies know they should do to something they want to do, not only because it’s right, but because of the business benefits.”


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