Apart from the inequality of opportunity and unfairness this represents, it means the sector is currently missing out on a huge talent pool, one that offers the life experiences and cognitive diversity that can tap more directly into the way other parts of the population live and think.
That diversity of thinking can help businesses design new products and services that better meet the needs and ambitions of their clients. It also allows the industry as a whole to meet challenges in a way less hidebound by the groupthink that (arguably) led to the worst excesses of the last financial crisis.
Where change needs to happen
In spite of some progress, there is still a long way to go for that awareness and support to translate into more people from diverse backgrounds entering and progressing in the sector. It is fundamental to embed inclusiveness into organisational culture if we want diversity and inclusion to be more than a window dressing. It is critical that this cultural change happens on many levels.
First, it has to come from the top: business leaders must create the framework in their organisation for an inclusive culture to thrive – including changing working practices that preclude certain groups and setting a personal example by openly welcoming and celebrating diversity.
It also has to be enabled and encouraged to happen at a grassroots level. That means empowering employees to take the ball and run with it, so inclusiveness becomes organic and takes on its own form: one that fits the organisation. Encouraging storytelling – getting people in the organisation to share their own experiences – is a key way of shaping that organic change. Storytelling not only gives everyone a voice but opens the door to empathy. Once everyone understands each other, they can make their own decisions about inclusivity, and that is a much more powerful tool than an edict from on high telling someone to be more inclusive.
The third level where change has to be driven is the industry itself: despite my efforts, I cannot get the cognitive diversity I want in my business because the diverse group of people with the relevant experience I would dearly like to hire do not currently exist. We, as businesses, have to come together and talk about how we are going to recruit these people into the industry, and then bring them on.
Steve Butler is chief executive of Punter Southall Aspire and author of Inclusive Culture: Leading Change Across Organisations and Industries