Diversity: How broad are your horizons?

As FIDI concludes its first-ever survey of gender and diversity, FIDI Focus Editor Dominic Weaver looks at how this issue affects global movers and, for those who are truly willing to embrace change, how it can impact positively on the performance of their businesses

 It is not pre-empting much about the soon-to-be-released results of the FIDI 39 Club’s study of gender and diversity in the relocation and moving industry to say this will be one of the conclusions: diversity is a good thing. 

Brielle Jones, Marketing and Sales Manager at Triglobal, a technology provider that connects movers to customers, says there are clear benefits to businesses that include diversity in their thinking.

‘If we all approached life in the same way, we wouldn’t learn,’ she says. ‘Diversity allows people to learn from one another and experience the world differently, every time. It benefits business as it provides a foundation that can spark new ideas and learning.’

FIDI launched its study on this subject early in 2019 and it has been carried out in collaboration with Dr Sebastian Stoermer from the University of Göttingen, Germany, a specialist in the fields of diversity management and expatriation management. The overarching objective is to create a picture of the status of women and other traditionally disadvantaged social minority groups working in our industry.

The research team has spoken to CEOs, HR representatives and other employees to find out their opinions on equality in companies and hierarchical levels, and what diversity-focused practices have been implemented in moving businesses to date.

Across industries, it is clear that some boardroom incumbents have struggled to get to grips with the benefits of diversity in business, looking at it as just a box-ticking exercise. However, the reality is that the concept is becoming increasingly important across the world – and according to the evidence, businesses need to catch up or lose out.

Consider these recent statistics from McKinsey. Companies in the top 25 per cent for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians; and companies in the top 25 per cent for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

Meanwhile, companies in the bottom 25 per cent for both gender and for racial and ethnic diversity are significantly more likely to perform worse than their peers.

In the UK, greater gender diversity on a senior-executive team increases success: for every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity, earnings before interests and taxes (EBIT) rose by 3.5 per cent.

These figures and data from other studies highlight the fact that diversity is a powerful competitive differentiator, which attracts market share towards a more diverse business. Diversity isn’t just a moral imperative, it can be great for the bottom line, too.

Make your business diverse, and you can respond to opportunities others miss. With broad-minded thinking, for example, drinks businesses have recently begun to develop their non-alcoholic beers to cater for a previously marginalised group – young multicultural Muslim men who want to socialise at the pub with their friends but stay true to their faith. At the beginning of 2019, UK bakery chain Greggs broke out of its traditional meat-based comfort zone to launch a vegan version of its best-selling sausage rolls, which have been selling by the thousand and have brought a significant boost to profits. The change went against much of what the company stood for, but rather than alienating its existing customers – as some had feared it would – it has unlocked a huge new market. Interestingly, the move was an initiative by a 20,000-strong customer petition, rather than the business itself.

Foster authentic, deep diversity within your company and who knows what opportunities it could uncover for your business. 

In the moving industry, the case for diversity is strong. When Russian authorities lifted a ban on women driving HGV lorries recently, they potentially doubled the workforce available to this sector – and provided (in Russia, at least) an instant antidote to the kind of driver shortages detailed in the news of this and previous issues of FIDI Focus. 

In addition to such examples, the benefits run far deeper for moving and relocation. Business is undergoing a period of huge change both locally and globally. Moving briefs are becoming on average smaller, more fragmented and unique, and we are catering for customers who are more diverse. Businesses are facing a challenge to understand and adapt to these forces; it’s easy to see how diversifying workforces will help companies do this.

Jones says: ‘We are entering the toughest era that the moving industry has ever faced. We need new ideas, better efficiency and to see things differently.

‘Diversity exists in this industry, but I think that we need to go out looking for it now more than ever before. We need to evolve with new energy and new perspective. Diversity in business is not just ethical, it could also be the solution to kick out old habits, processes and ideas that no longer serve our margin in the way they used to.’

Bursting our bubbles

Yet there remains resistance to change. At a recent seminar held for London-based tech recruiter Futureheads, Dr John Whittle, of diversity and inclusion experts, Versiti, said much of this comes from entrenched ‘male, pale and stale’ workers, who, until now, have been unchallenged but are now worried about being replaced. And, much of this worry comes from the fact that, in the absence of company diversity, they can easily become detached and less dynamic. Diversity benefits everyone in a business. 

Most of us create safe bubbles around us, says Whittle. This is illustrated very well on social media, where users block the opinions that conflict with their own and like those that don’t – and are then surprised when, for example, Brexit happens or election results are different to expectations.    

Whittle asserts that with easy content available, people are losing their ability to think critically or ask questions – at a time when, more than ever, they need to. In business, employees should be asking questions such as ‘Why are we doing this?’ and ‘How can we do this better?’

Developing diverse mindset in individuals means accommodating others’ points of view, even if you don’t agree with them.

Extend this to the company level and you create fertile ground on which a business can flourish. At Triglobal, for example, there is a policy to recruit people who, rather than mirror the qualities of their co-workers, complement them instead, giving everyone ‘a unique added value’, according to Jones. ‘We strive to create an environment where we do not all agree, nor do we see things the same way. From these conversations and, dare I say it, conflicts, we can learn from the discrepancy and innovate based on that,’ she says.

Take the time to reflect on a colleague’s challenges, how they think and what their goals are. By unpacking each other’s viewpoint, you can work more constructively together. And, yes, this is often easier to talk about than to put into practice!

So, if they haven’t already done so, how can moving businesses make a start on making themselves more diverse and feeling the benefits?

According to Whittle, the key to business leaders to get started is that they take the time to understand the challenges and that developing a ‘diverse company’ isn’t just a public relations exercise – when it’s an integral part of a company’s approach, it can add incredible value.  

Businesses should start by asking themselves a question – are we willing to take this step and ‘risk’ hiring a person with a non-traditional profile? If the answer is ‘no’, they should ask themselves why.

Jones says: ‘Look around the room and ask yourself, are these people employed because they are the same as me, or because they’re better or different from me? That’s how you ensure your organisation is diverse.’ 

Getting started shouldn’t be about box ticking, she adds, but we have to start somewhere, so quotas or targets may help in the beginning in order to ‘force businesses to think, react and evolve with new surroundings and perspective. From there, one learns to acknowledge and appreciate the benefits of diversity – and it’s not as threatening any more’.

In this emerging area, companies should develop their own metrics for diversity – such as the number of flexible hours for new parents or even attempting to put a value on the new ‘diverse’ ideas that come from the company. Think about job adverts that avoid gendered or other leading words – and make job interviews inclusive.

Ask questions, check those preconceived ideas and work together and your business will benefit.

Diversity can make your business thrive, says Jones. ‘Look for diversity on every level,’ she says. ‘Whether through gender, ethnicity, language, culture, personality, sexual orientation, age or ability, we need the dialogue and the vast array of perspectives that comes from diversity in order to innovate.

‘Ultimately, diversity brings experience, new behaviour and new thought into the mix. In essence, everybody has a skill and is valuable, if we can understand their true potential and how this suits our organisations.’

FIDI’s gender and diversity study – our method. By Sebastian Stoermer, University of Göttingen, Germany

To accomplish its goals, FIDI’s study follows a two-pronged approach.

We have surveyed CEO and HR officers and employees to harness the various practices and perspectives on diversity and equality across companies and hierarchical levels. For instance, we asked CEOs and HR officers for descriptive accounts about the demographic composition of their staff and the share of women across management levels. We inquired about their engagement in diversity management in general and the availability of programmes facilitating female careers and work-family support practices. Above and beyond this descriptive approach, we are interested in finding out if there is a relationship between engagement in these practices and organisational performance and retention.

 In terms of the employee survey, the target groups are both individuals from traditionally privileged and underprivileged social groups.

In particular, a central aim of this leg of the study is to find out if, and how, diversity-supportive organisational climates and family-support practices promote employee integration into the workplace, their job satisfaction, work engagement, and commitment to their employer. We also want to understand the differences in the perceptions and consequences of these aspects, between employee groups for instance, and if
their outcomes vary across these groups.

FIDI has now completed the data collection phase of its gender and diversity study. From here, we plan to publish a white paper at the beginning of 2020, which will form the basis of our discussions at our conference in Osaka at the end of April. We are excited to inform the members of the FIDI family about these novel and important insights.

As a relocation business, what are your experiences of diversity? FIDI wants to hear them – please get in touch at  Magali.Horbert@fidi.org