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Creating a Truly Inclusive Workplace

It’s no secret that diverse teams are more innovative, productive, and profitable than their homogenous counterparts. Research by McKinsey shows that a more varied workforce enables organisations to better engage their employees while understanding and serving a diverse client base.  Although there has been significant progress over the last few years, experts in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) field feel there is still much more to do. Many business leaders have implemented comprehensive DE&I policies and practices—but have they done enough to create a truly inclusive organisation? 

If we understood as much about our colleagues as we do about our consumers, we’d be able to unleash so much more potential. 

Louise Byrne, VP Global Talent, IHG Hotels & Resorts

Through our daily interactions with senior HR leaders and experts in the DE&I space, we regularly come across people and organisations with outstanding strategies to promote a fully inclusive workplace. Johnson & Johnson, for example, believes that recruiting more employees with diverse abilities is a great way to mirror their customer base and marketplace. Likewise, Rebecca Harris, Global Head DE&I at IHG Hotels & Resorts, explains that IHG have set stretching commitment around gender and ethnic minority representation. To achieve these, they have introduced inclusive hiring practices (such as diverse slates and diverse panels), and they are ensuring they employ local leaders in markets such as the Middle East and across Asia.

ChapmanCG Senior Directors Abby Walters and Graham Tollit, and Associate Director Hazel Steveni, reached out to several influential leaders in the DE&I field from our global network to explore what organisations can do to increase inclusion in the workplace.

The Role of HR in Organisational DE&I

Let’s start with the question of where DE&I sits within an organisation—a contentious issue. We see various reporting lines across different organisations and industries. Several leaders we’ve spoken to have highlighted the importance of having DE&I sit within its own stream and ideally report directly to the business. Some go as far as seeing DE&I as a disruptor to the organisation.

Dr Roshni Mooneeram helps organisations leverage Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) to drive organisational success. She argues that D&I and HR must be seen as separate, albeit overlapping, functions. HR should support organisational D&I by embedding its principles across all HR functions through de-biasing processes, inclusive recruitment, retention, and promotions. 

The problem with keeping DE&I cocooned within HR is that it is seen as having less influence over the other support function, such as marketing, communications, customer propositions, etc. That said, according to one of our panellists, delivering more equal outcomes for candidates and employees will only be achieved if DE&I and HR process owners work effectively together to integrate DE&I content, principles, and thinking into the employment life cycle. 

I believe that DE&I should overarch People and Culture. People and Culture should report to DE&I and not the reverse. If DE&I folds into People & Culture, it can become the millionth subject on their to-do list.

Jan Stuebbe, Global Head Innovation – Inclusion & Diversity at Philip Morris International

ChapmanCG suggests that DE&I could be integrated to every function. “Walking the talk” should not be reserved for the HR team; every employee and leader should confidently be a DE&I ambassador, demonstrating the importance and natural integration of diversity and inclusion in a workplace.

Regardless of where DE&I sits within the overall business, it’s apparent that the support and partnership of HR are critical to the success of its diversity and inclusion strategy. HR leaders should build awareness and sensitivity in and around DE&I topics and develop talent strategies and processes with this in mind. They are critical to leading communication and understanding within the greater business.     

Data is Everything

Our expert panel all agree data is the most critical element to DE&I success. As ChapmanCG has also seen, nearly all organisations are increasing their focus on data-driven decision-making in their HR functions, including when setting global DE&I strategies. For DE&I professionals, this makes the availability and accessibility of people data and the ability to analyse and translate that data into meaningful metrics and goals for business leaders more important than ever.

Biral Joshi, Director – Global Head of Inclusion Delivery at HSBC emphasises the importance of collecting and analysing data: “Data is critical to understand workforce profile, set goals, measure progress and hold senior leaders to account across all key levers of hiring, promotions and retention. Data provides a stronger evidence-based approach to executing and activating DE&I agendas; it’s the pillar that underpins key decision-making.”

Data should be the foundation of all DE&I and the starting point of every DE&I journey. Without a data and evidence base, organisations grapple in the dark with DE&I or move from one fad to another. There is an acceleration of unique diagnostic tools to investigate diversity and inclusion, from which the data enables companies to understand exactly where the risks lie for their organisation and where they could improve retention, engagement, and innovation, for example. 

According to one of our experts, if you can’t accurately assess the diversity of the workforce, client base, or supply chain, or determine how inclusive they are, then it’s impossible to evaluate the true impact of any DE&I initiatives that companies spend their time and money on. Measurable outcomes also need appropriate accountability if real progress is going to be made. There is no point in simply admiring the problem or wanting to change it. Actual progress comes when leaders are held accountable for change in DE&I, as for many other business outcome measures.

Data is EVERYTHING in DE&I. The fact is shareholders trust companies to spend their time and money on DE&I initiatives that work – not on DE&I initiatives that they hope will work. So, data is an absolute must to target the correct initiatives and prove the ROI on DE&I investment.

Matt Dowie, Director – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, SVB UK

Generally, this is consistent with what ChapmanCG have been seeing around a rapid demand for people, data, and analytics experts from the C-Suite. The global searches we have led request those with highly commercial and analytical mindsets who can modernise the function and genuinely support the business leaders to drive their agendas using data as a strategic advantage and differentiator to develop insights, generate intelligence, and drive decision-making across the organisation—ultimately creating best-in-class functions and teams that will take analytics from predictive to prescriptive and beyond. This trend will only accelerate as technologies innovate and evolve further.

Other Challenges and Opportunities in DE&I

Although the data indicate that progress has been made across several areas, our panel highlights the obstacles many DE&I professionals face today when creating more inclusive spaces.

A core theme highlighted by each leader in our panel is the necessity for committed, invested leadership. Genuine buy-in from decision-makers is imperative, as is the understanding that DE&I isn’t just another box to tick. It is vital for the organisation’s success and its employees’ happiness. Business leaders should champion it rather than take the ‘tokenistic’ approach through sporadic events and initiatives, which can be resource-intensive and yield little ROI. 

To build a case, the aforementioned data and analytics are imperative for demonstrating where an organisation may have gaps and what strategies can move the needle. Anonymous employee engagement surveys provide good internal benchmarking, and transparent and open external reporting allows DE&I professionals to leverage what other companies are doing.

Another common opportunity identified by our panel is de-biasing the HR process. Our experts argue that organisations should not seek to eliminate bias from their hiring process but instead mitigate its effects. They highlight the importance of companies and hiring managers taking a more active stance in reducing biases rather than a passive approach and expecting the results to follow. Organisations must attract and retain the best and most diverse talent, which can only be achieved through inclusive recruitment and promotion strategies.

It is impossible to completely remove bias from an innately human process like recruiting, but we can learn first to become more conscious about those biases (positive and negative) that we have and then adapt our methods to overcome or mitigate those biases.

Sarah Boddey, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer – EMEA & APAC at Northern Trust

It’s clear that although many businesses have come to recognise the need to adopt DE&I strategies and have the willingness to become more inclusive, they may struggle with exactly how to achieve this. Simply putting training on the agenda is not enough. Leaders must be held accountable for demonstrating DE&I practices every day. From inclusive recruitment and career development to performance reviews and compensation policies, a company must embed and practice these principles across the entire organisation to succeed.

In conversations with our network, ChapmanCG has found that professionals in this space are open to sharing their learnings and have built a strong community, allowing for transparency and allowing others to leverage the work already done. This openness and shared expertise are essential as DE&I work is ongoing, and the challenges leaders face will shift and evolve.  


Speaking to several experts in their field, from industries as varied as banking, hospitality and FMCG, it appears that the buy-in of executive leaders is paramount to ensuring initiatives are actually ‘lifted off the ground’ in the first place and at all levels employees are fully engaged and supportive. After all, as we move forward, it will take the whole team to work in unison so that everyone can thrive and reach their full potential.

There is also firm agreement that data metrics, analytics, and transparent processes will be at the core of measuring success on this oscillating journey. These results will shape and tweak the ideas and strategies of the future, fostering a culture of continuous improvement in this space.

At ChapmanCG, we reflect on our search partnerships over the past twelve months. We are pleased to see increasing requests for early, diverse candidate slates, a need to practise unconscious bias in our own assessments, and the importance of sharing detailed post-search diversity data and statistics with our clients. We see this to be a topic that sparks passion and great promise as we talk daily to senior HR leaders in our global network.

Thank you to these DE&I Experts in our HR network for valuable insights and personal perspectives:

Louise Byrne, VP Global Talent at IHG Hotels & Resorts

Rebecca Harris, Global Head DE&I at IHG Hotels & Resorts

Biral Joshi, Global Head of Inclusion Delivery at HSBC

Jan Steubbe, Global Head Innovation – Inclusion & Diversity at Philip Morris International

Matt Dowie, Director – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at SVB UK

Sarah Boddey,  Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer – EMEA & APAC at Northern Trust

Dr Roshni Mooneeram, Independent Consultant

Adam Travis, Global Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Logitech


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