Posted 29th November 2019

“Are we there yet?”

“We’ll be there in 10 minutes.”

*10 minutes passes*

“You said 10 minutes!”

“Did I say 10? I meant 20!”

Anyone who’s ever been in a car on a long journey with impatient children or friends will be familiar with this conversation. They’re desperate to get to the final destination and you try to placate them with markers along the way.

The journey towards a diverse and inclusive society can feel like that. We have come a long way and we keep hitting new milestones, but there is always further to go.

Obviously, this is an issue that crosses the whole of society, but it is particularly acute in the workplace:

  • The mean gender pay gap for full-time workers is 13.1% and at this rate it will be 60 years before women are earning the same amount as men for doing the same job.
  • Over half of employees from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background (52%) believe that they will have to leave their current organisation to progress in their career, in contrast to 38% of White British employees.
  • There are 10.4 million workers aged over 50 in the UK – an increase of 2.4 million in the last decade. This is equivalent to nearly a third of the workforce and is a proportion set to grow as we live and work for longer.
  • More than a third of LGBT staff have hidden that they are LGBT at work for fear of discrimination.
  • People with disabilities have an employment rate that is 28.9 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities.

Improving workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I) is not just morally right, it makes business sense. Studies have shown that diverse teams perform better and are more engaged and innovative. But it should not be a tick-box exercise. D&I strategies are all well and good, but inclusion should be part of your organisation’s DNA. The key to attracting diverse talent isn’t about having a separate strategy; it’s about D&I being at the very heart of your business. A diverse workplace is not created by a few diverse hires. Without an inclusive culture, diverse employees will leave an organisation if they feel they don’t fit.

The idea of ‘fit’ in itself can be detrimental to D&I. Traditionally, it considers how well a candidate fits against an organisation’s values or culture. This is important, but care should be taken to ensure it doesn’t exclude particular groups. This can lead to employers selecting people who are similar to them or who have experiences they can relate to. Unconscious bias (or even overt prejudice) can creep in. It encourages the status quo effect of only hiring people who are similar to those you have hired before. Why hire more of the same, when you could find people whose capabilities may fill a gap?


So, how do we get to our next marker along the road?

A recent study by CIPD determined that complementary fit, where a person brings new viewpoints and skills to an organisation, is better for diversity and challenges the status quo more than supplementary fit, where a candidate offers more of what a team already has. 

Changing a company culture is not something I can tell you how to do in a few lines, but employers should be welcoming and encourage participation from everyone regardless of which protected characteristic(s) they fit into.

In the process of tackling diversity, we tend to want to keep putting people into categories and giving them labels. We do it so that people are seen as equal, and this can be empowering in certain scenarios, but those labels often come with judgements and assumptions which set limits on us and create division. A focus on inclusion does the opposite.

Hiring processes should be inclusive, but people should still be selected for roles based on their capabilities, skills, ambitions and motivations. It doesn’t help anyone if people are chosen for a role just because they tick a box. We all want to know that we have been selected for a position on merit.

When you’re writing that next job description, don’t just think about what your current culture is; think about what you aspire it to be. Think in detail about the employee characteristics that your organisation needs. Fit with company values is important – as long as they’ve been tested for bias – but consider anti-fit too. What is the company lacking? What are the gaps? Be very specific about the person specification. What will the duties be? What skills and knowledge are needed? Once you’ve done that, look at everything again and consider if anything would compromise D&I. Anything that does should be taken out.


When hiring people, don’t make the mistake of always looking to the same recruiters again and again. Broaden your search, or better yet, why not let people come direct to you?

Optunli lets people do just that. It treats everyone as an individual and focuses on their capabilities, needs, interests and ambitions; not labels. Optunli will help you see where you are on this journey so you can see where you need to improve. The endgame is to be in a place where we don’t need labels and tick boxes anymore, a place where we feel equal and belong.

That’s when we’ll know we’ve arrived, kids.

Teresa Fox
Post author:Teresa Fox

Teresa Fox is a Co-CEO and Founder of Optunli.

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