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‘Diversity’ as a word tends to anaesthetise or polarise most people in SMEs in my experience. Either they zone out on the basis that it’s not something they need concern themselves about or they get them slightly on edge and a wee bit defensive.

And I understand the defensive part. Because if I ran a company of, say 100 people, but had no significant proportion of anyone but middle class white males (or any other homogenous group) in my management team, I’d be fidgeting in my seat too….

But zoning out and thinking it’s an issue for other people is just not cool either. Because it shows you up as someone who is closing your eyes and ears to doing something which will help your businesses exponentially.

Want more innovation in your mix? Our creativity and problem solving skills get better when we mix with people who challenge our own stereotypes (Richard Crisp, HR Magazine). So if you’re sitting in a room with people who are ‘just like you’, you’re less likely to be innovative.

Want better performance? Step forward Diversity again. Having at least 30% of women in leadership (it’s 19% currently in UK SME’s btw) adds to your profit margin ( The Peterson Institute).

Want to understand your customers? The starting point to most marketing. However if you serve a variety of clients or customers but yet you only ever employ a narrow section of the population, you’re doing yourself a disservice in recognising what their needs are.

Want to keep your great employees? Anecdotally, a prominent reason openly discussed in women’s networking groups as to why so many successful women have left their businesses to set up on their own, is due to the lack of recognition they receive in their previous (mostly male) organisations.

And it’s not that I think most SME’s I’ve encountered are anti-diversity. They’re just often not interested in being ‘pro’ it, falling into the zoning out category mentioned up front.

For example, I know that most would simply say that they believe with regards to their hiring policy that they should hire the best person for the job. Who has the best experience. And pay them what they need to in the market rate. And if that person just happens to be a middle class, white, male. Well, who am I to turn them away? When put in those terms, all practices sound reasonable. Admirable even. And definitely not sexist. But recognising that there is something wrong with that picture? Not a jot.

It’s genuinely sad that I even need to start this post by listing the business rationale for mixing it up a bit. In just about every other aspect of our lives we’re surrounded by an equal mix of both men and women. Because we’d get bored if not and we instinctively recognise in our personal lives that variety is a good thing. So why not at work?

So, assuming you want your business to succeed, that you want to have the benefits a representative mix of the population can offer you, the next challenge is how you practically start to change things. In the words of one of my clients: “What do you want me to do? Fire my existing team?!. Obviously not (unless they’re cr** that is). But how about trying out these practical steps to pave your way forward:

  • It all starts at the beginning… So get real in your advertising & job descriptions and think about the words you are using to describe the candidates you are looking for. Most businesses write a wish list which don’t actually describe what they are looking for and an instead provide an easy way to screen out good potential candidates. Is it really essential that this person has over ten years experience in a specific type of environment at a senior level? Because if it is, then you might have unwittingly just ruled out anyone who’s ever had a career break. Surely you want someone who’s delivered the best results and in which case, change your criteria (and your questions later).
  • Shortlist a blend of candidates: The next time you go to hire, ask the person helping you with your hiring to provide an equal amount of male and female candidates in the mix. It’ll be tough in some industries, but challenge yourself and them to do so.
  • Highlight the unconscious bias that sits in all of us when it comes to interviewing: Make everyone who is interviewing candidates watch at least 3 of the videos in Facebook’s series of unconscious bias training. They take about 15 minutes each, can be watched over lunch and I guarantee will have people thinking more about their own unconscious biases and the impact of them. This isn’t a male or female ‘thing’. We’re all in this one together.
  • Promote the women in your business. And I don’t mean promote them to a new role all the time. But promote and recognise their accomplishments, encourage them to showcase their work internally and externally.
  • Find role models for your female team members to look up to: if you can’t find any internal mentors (because you only have men on the senior team) then provide external help or encourage them to join networking groups in your industry where they can find support.
  • Offer greater flexibility. Shared Paternity Leave is a start, but culturally we are a long way off Geoff from the rugby club telling his mates that he’s taking 4 months out to look after the twins whilst Georgina goes back to work… To help us get to that point however, instead focus on a results and DO THE MATHS: a superstar employee of either sex will outperform an average one by about 5 times. So if your superstar employee is female & does want a bit of flexible working, don’t penalise yourself by penalising her and not allowing it. Because if you don’t offer it, someone else will….
  • (But) Be consistent: Allow the same degree of flexibility for everyone in your business and don’t penalise people who have different hours: in one firm I knew of a highly respected (male) developer came and went as he pleased without comment, whilst a mother returning to work was practically put on clocking-in such was the concern that allowing her flexibility would ‘open the floodgates’. Open the floodgate to what exactly? Fabulous performance?

My own experience tells me that there is little in SMEs beyond token nods towards improving diversity. And although mine is only a small data set to use, the stories I hear from other female friends and colleagues plus published research, backs up these views.

The good news however, is that many are open to these changing and I hold a very strong hope that by the time my sons enter the workplace, that their attitudes, and those of their peers will be so far removed from the ones which currently prevail, that ‘Diversity’, as a label, will be obsolete due to it just simply being the norm.

If you want to see what opportunities there are in your business to benefit from being more diverse, get in touch with us for an initial chat about how we might be able to work together: or call 0203 627 7048.

You’ll walk away from your free consultation with a clear idea about what you need to do next.

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p.s – To get ahead of your game when it comes to another area important to your employees: Reward and Recognition, download our FREE eBook: Show Me The Money! The Ultimate Guide To Reward And Recognition In An SME.

Photo Credit: Carl Jones – The Usual Jellies