Diversity: Undervalued, under-resourced and in decline

Despite its proven effectiveness on employer branding, corporate decision-making and even profitability new research shows many organisations are downsizing their diversity programs and strategies.

Diversity: Undervalued, under-resourced and in decline

While diversity may have been touted as a focus by many organisations for many years, a collaborative research effort by Korn/Ferry International, Futurestep and Diversity Council Australia (DCA) uncovered 41% of organisations are still at the ‘foundation stage’ of their programs, with many not realising the full gamut of benefits diverse and inclusive workplaces reap.

Most senior level managers are only ‘somewhat involved’ or ‘not very involved’ in the diversity and inclusion strategies of their organisations, despite 81% of respondents feeling their involvement is critical to success.

“Many CEOs have not been exposed to what true workplace diversity looks like. Our research suggests they view it as recruitment and compliance process, [sic] rather than a strategy that helps to grow and engage talent and competitiveness required for business growth,” Jacqueline Gillespie, senior partner at Korn/Ferry International, said.

This lack of awareness has resulted in many diversity teams consisting of as little as two members, with 62% of diversity managers combining diversity with other responsibilities, such as talent and leadership development or HR.

While the results may show diversity initiatives are in decline, they also indicate that HR managers looking for a slight career move may consider moving into a diversity-oriented position. The results found 67% of diversity professionals come from an HR background, with 85% having university qualifications. Most (60%) who enter a diversity role do so with little to no experience in that field, with 40% of diversity professionals having less than three years’ experience.

Gillespie feels this lack of experience indicates diversity is not being viewed as the senior leadership responsibility it should be.

Nareen Young, CEO of DCA, stated that the findings explain – in part – why some areas of progress in diversity are so poor, citing the absence of disabled and Aboriginal Australians in workplaces as being indicative of the ineffectiveness of current strategies.

“We aren’t going to see a lot of improvement in these areas if organisations don’t value the diversity function, aren’t strategic about planning for it or don’t properly resource it,” Young said.

“I urge business leaders to take another look at their diversity function to ensure they have the skills, resources and strategic engagement they need to achieve change and harness the benefits of diversity,” she added.

Gillespie advised that organisations should focus on building strong leaders as part of their diversity initiatives in order to open up the possibility of more inclusive career programs and mentoring.

“It is vital that organisations also focus on building leadership capability around inclusion. One without the other does not change things,” she added.

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