White Middle-aged Men Can’t Call the Shots for Much Longer


Is your company culture vibrant and engaged? Does it draw in talented people from different backgrounds, minorities and age groups, to out-think and out-perform competitors?

Or is it guilty of tired ‘top-down’ management, sleepwalking into disharmony, under-performance, and lack of competitiveness, all because of a continuing failure to engage existing and new talent using smart diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies?

Our latest research, the 2019 Workplace Diversity, Inclusion & Intersectionality Report,   assessed the views of 34,634 company employees worldwide on their organization’s culture, diversity & inclusion and intersectionality. The survey shows that employers everywhere are struggling to listen to, and engage with, diverse and self-aware workforces and fully release their potential.

Voices unheard

The researchers found widespread differences in employee experience, with middle-aged, white, cis-gendered men still the favored ones in the way companies around the world are operated: fewer than half (46 percent) BAME (Black, Asian and Latinx) women and 52 percent LGBTQ+ women feel included in company decision making.

Despite decades of equality legislation in Western economies, only 54 percent of straight white women say they feel included in the way their company is run, compared to 69 percent for straight white men.

And the findings will trouble employers who assume that there’s a level playing field for careers. While 80 percent of straight white men think that people from all backgrounds have an equal opportunity to succeed at work, only 54 percent of black women, 58 percent of LGBTQ+ women, 63 percent of black men and 69 percent of straight white women actually agree.

Bosses are still failing to balance the needs of families and careers. There are almost twice as many partnered men with children than women in workplaces (13 percent and six percent respectively) while the proportion of men to women with no children is almost equal (21:24 percent), supporting the view that new mothers often don’t return to their job after starting a family because employers won’t accommodate their changing needs.

The survey data also show the emergence of a more youthful and self-aware global workforce. The youngest (under 24 years of age) cohort outnumbers the oldest participant group (55+ years of age) by three to one, with this cohort being more likely to identify as LGBT than any other when entering the workforce (11 percent).  How will middle-aged white managers fully understand these groups’ mindset …and realize their potential?

Unlike ad hoc employee research or an annual staff survey, this new type of analysis marks a step-change in employee engagement because it draws on two crucial data sets that haven’t been collected consistently on a worldwide scale before.

First, anonymized representational information (such as employees’ ethnic background) to demonstrate the actual composition of the workforce.

Second, employees’ actual experiences at work. This methodology offers a potential breakthrough in identifying the next steps in making diverse and inclusive workplaces a reality, especially when we consider that only 36% of UK firms even collect workforce diversity data from.

Tellingly, the survey data aligns with worldwide demographic research showing an increasingly diverse population in leading economies – with minorities becoming an increasingly influential voice at work. UK academic research suggests that ethnic minorities will comprise 35-40% of the UK population by 2061 and a majority by the end of this century, while the US is projected to have a majority-minority workforce by 2050.

Making D&I happen

If company managers are feeling somewhat bruised by these findings, there are still bright points to reflect on. The research has revealed how companies are making effective progress on D&I strategies, namely:

  • Companies that collect in-depth data on diversity and intersectionality are more likely to act on what they find
  • Organizations that incorporate D&I principles into their everyday workplace life − instead of treating them as separate management initiatives − are delivering on target outcomes
  • Teams targeting “small wins” in their D&I strategies – such as being more transparent in their decision-making typically see an uplift of between 4-8 percent on target areas.

Practical D&I initiatives are integral to the success of today’s organization, because more diverse teams bring fresh perspectives on commercial challenges, deliver a stronger talent pool, enhance companies’ ability to innovate and company performance levels.

Yet despite societies becoming increasingly diverse, these survey findings suggest that organizations urgently need to look beyond the age of the middle-aged white manager if they are to grasp and embrace the exciting opportunities that a truly diverse workforce can offer.

About the Author: Jess Brook is a senior people scientist and head of D&I Europe at Culture Amp, the people and culture company.



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