Flexible working ‘vital to unlock talents through wider diversity’

Spreading the word: Charlotte Sweeney, above, has co-authored a book called Inclusive Leadership, with Fleur Bothwick OBE. Picture: Brian Lloyd Duckett
Spreading the word: Charlotte Sweeney, above, has co-authored a book called Inclusive Leadership, with Fleur Bothwick OBE. Picture: Brian Lloyd Duckett
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Companies need to offer more flexible working patterns to attract employees from diverse backgrounds, according to a leading diversity and inclusion expert.

Charlotte Sweeney runs a consultancy helping businesses create more diverse workplaces.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Ms Sweeney said that changing the perception of home working could make a business more attractive to people from diverse backgrounds.

She said: “There’s still the perception in lots of companies that if you’re not physically in the office then you’re not working.

“That’s one of the biggest challenges we need to tackle and companies need to focus on people’s outputs and the impacts they are having on the business. Not the amount of hours they are physically in an office.”

Ms Sweeney added that companies needed to “get smarter” when it comes to measuring employee performance.

She said: “A lot of companies say they have either performance management or appraisals. They need to get smarter at what they are measuring in there and how they are measuring it.

“Get smarter at setting very clear objectives for employees and make sure everybody is very clear on what they need to deliver.”

Ms Sweeney has co-authored a book called Inclusive Leadership, with Fleur Bothwick OBE, head of inclusion and diversity at EY.

She hopes the book will help businesses “see a very pragmatic way of delivering” diversity and inclusion policies.

The diversity expert was spurred into writing the book by frustration at progress not being made.

“Many companies have been focusing on equality, diversity or inclusion for nearly two decades and I was increasingly frustrated that progress had not been made,” said Ms Sweeney.

“My ultimate hope for the book is that it really helps companies and people within companies to really create that different workplace that they’re all espousing they want to achieve,” she added.

The situation around gender imbalance in the workplace is improving, she said, but more work still needs to be done.

Ms Sweeney said: “I still see many companies that have barriers within their recruitment processes and their promotion processes that hinder women and also other groups of talented people.

“We need to focus more on how we remove those barriers. It’s going to be a constant piece of work. This isn’t something you can say that you’ve done, ticked the box and then move on.

“Companies have to be increasingly mindful of where the barriers are within their organisations and how do we actually get rid of those.”

An example of an unnecessary barrier is companies automatically asking for a degree qualification, when the job doesn’t necessarily dictate it, Ms Sweeney says.

In order to understand barriers, Ms Sweeney says, senior leaders need to go out into their organisations and talk to workers.

“Those people will give you examples of where the barriers and challenges are,” she said.

Regional slant on positive action

Last year Charlotte Sweeney launched Creating Inclusive Cultures (CIC), an initiative looking to turn conversations around diversity into positive action across the country.

Ms Sweeney said the majority of diversity and inclusion work was coming from London and that different regions have different needs. “I wanted to bring companies together in the cities,” she says. The initiative was piloted in Leeds and has now been introduced to Birmingham and Manchester, with interest from four other cities.

Ms Sweeney said: “We go depending on where the companies want us to go. At the moment there is interest in four key cities; Liverpool, Bristol, Edinburgh and Belfast.”

The former diversity adviser to Sir Vince Cable is also looking to take her book Inclusive Leadership on tour in 2017. “We are doing events across the world in 2017,” she said. “We start in India in February.”