A one-size fits all approach to increasing diversity in the workplace doesn’t work as different regions have different needs to London, according to a leading diversity and inclusion expert.
Charlotte Sweeney has launched Creating Inclusive Cultres (CIC), which is looking to turn conversations around diversity into positive action across the country.
CIC has already arrived in Leeds and will be rolled out across Manchester and Birmingham in the first half of 2016. The likes of professional services business EY, law firm DWF and insurance group Direct Line have all signed up to the programme.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Ms Sweeney said: “CIC challenges the thinking of whatever is right in London is right in Leeds or Manchester or Birmingham.
“We’ve got to take our different cultures, our different regions, and our different economic requirements into account.
“That’s why these organisations, who have signed up, have started to come together to really focus on diversity and inclusion in a different way and collaborate across many different organisations.”
We shouldn’t assume what’s right in London is right everywhere else.Charlotte Sweeney, leading diversity and inclusion expert
Ms Sweeney added: “One of the challenges for us is making sure we create an environment within our region that makes talent for the future actually want to stay here.
“When we look at London we are also looking at organisations that are highly multinational. What they do is send edicts out across the regions to say these are the things you should be focusing on and actually our demographic composition, what people actually want out of a workplace, their economic requirements – they’re all different in different regions across the country.
“We shouldn’t assume what’s right in London is right everywhere else.”
Ms Sweeney said that the greatest barrier to more workplace diversity is that many organisations look at diversity and inclusion as an initiative.
She added: “To get this right and to make sure that we create sustainable companies for the future it has to be focused on change. It has to be looking at what are all our practices and processes and how do we change them. A lot of companies tinker around the edges which actually doesn’t bring any change.”
Ms Sweeney acknowledged that things were slowly changing when it came to diversity in business.
The diversity expert warned that unless businesses realised the importance of having a more diverse workforce they would struggle in the future. She said: “I would say if organisations are not doing it they’re not going to grow and potentially they won’t be around in the future. By 2020, 66 per cent of graduates across the developed world will be women.”
Generational differences also need to be considered by businesses, says Ms Sweeney.
“This year is the oldest average age we’ve seen in the UK. We’re seeing that we’re going to have five generations in the workplace for the first time in history.”
CIC will see the senior leaders from businesses that have signed up to the programme agree on commitments on what actions they will take on diversity.
‘More work still needs to be done’
The reason why Charlotte Sweeney chose to launch CIC in Leeds was because she thought it would be a good place to trial the programme.
Ms Sweeney is also originally from Leeds herself. She has been working in diversity and inclusion for over 17 years, mainly in London.
Ms Sweeney said: “One of my frustrations when I worked for Halifax Bank of Scotland between 2005 and 2009 was that everything around this agenda was based in London and it didn’t take into account the regional differences.”
Good progress is being made when it comes to diversity but more still needs to be done, said Ms Sweeney.
She said: “For example, law firms have been talking about the importance of social mobility for years. But there was research this year that said still 70 per cent of graduate positions in law firms are going to candidates from Russell Group universities and they are only four per cent of the population.”