Can recruiters do more to promote equality, diversity and inclusion research?

This March was a very special milestone for me, as it marked my five-year anniversary as CEO of Barclay Simpson. I remain extremely grateful to have been given this opportunity, and I’m incredibly proud of everything we – as a team and a business – have accomplished during that time.

Since stepping into the role, one of my priorities has been to continue embedding a culture of equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) into the foundations of our organisation. Recruitment is all about people after all, and it’s crucial that we strive to be representative of all sections of society and make everyone within our network feel respected, valued and understood.

As a company, we’ve worked hard to foster a culture of inclusion and belonging within our own teams in order to create a workplace where everyone feels seen and heard. And while there is undoubtedly a clear business case for ED&I, the moral case is far stronger: we want to do what’s right.

To truly thrive, I firmly believe recruiters must not only embrace diversity internally, but actively promote and celebrate it in all forms wherever possible.

Drive change

Recruiters are in a unique position to champion the benefits of ED&I within the world of employment. Some of our efforts are very direct, such as helping clients access a diverse pool of talent and ensuring qualified candidates are given equal opportunities at all stages of the recruitment process.

Other ED&I work that we’re involved in has a broader, more long-term scope, and it’s one of these projects that I’d like to talk more about now.

In 2022, we began partnering with Women in Banking & Finance (WIBF), a highly regarded not-for-profit network that has been championing women in financial services for more than 40 years.

We supported them on Accelerating Change Together, or ACT, a four-year research programme conducted by the WIBF in collaboration with The Inclusion Initiative at the London School of Economics (LSE).

ACT is the UK’s first cross-sector research programme designed to bring a gender lens to the country’s financial services industry in an effort to address its prevailing gender balance issues.

More research into diversity and inclusion is always welcome, but ACT goes even further by providing actionable recommendations that organisations can adopt in order to better attract, retain and promote employees from diverse backgrounds.

Barclay Simpson and other recruiters supported the WIBF and LSE by introducing senior professionals from across our specialist markets who were willing to be interviewed about their careers and unique experiences. I’m delighted to say we were able to find 26 senior governance and cyber professionals for the study.

The final report, ‘100 Diverse Voices’, revealed a number of fascinating ED&I insights, with a key focus on the re-organisation of work in a post-pandemic world.

The full report can be read here, and we recently spoke to Dr Jasmine Virhia – a Postdoctoral Researcher at LSE who was the lead interviewer for the project – to discuss some of its findings.

“What has become really clear from our research is that the autonomy people were given during the pandemic is now central to how people conceptualise their work and how much satisfaction they’re getting from it,” she explained.

“Everyone is prioritising their physical and mental health so much more now.”

Indeed, the consensus among the interviewees was that a ‘remote first’ approach to work has no negative impact on productivity, and often improved productivity for many people. Women in particular favoured a flexible approach, which means offices that demand arbitrary office time could be deterring top female talent.

This aligns with Barclay Simpson’s own research. According to our most recent surveys, 69% of people would consider changing jobs if they weren’t able to have their preferred hybrid or remote working set-up. And for 74% of employees, the ideal flexible working arrangement is at least three days working from home a week.

Of course, flexible working is just one piece of the puzzle for firms looking to drive ED&I. Psychological safety, trust and effective leadership are also key to creating a diverse and inclusive culture.

“Organisations really need to invest in having a large number of inclusive leaders, as well as formal management training,” Dr Virhia said.

“It sounds simple, but if you’re responsible for managing people – whether it’s a team of two or 20 – you should have the right understanding and training to do that. This really helps to improve diversity and inclusion organically.”

Take action

During the interviews, a common complaint among interviewees was that many organisations say all the right things on paper when it comes to ED&I, but they don’t always follow through properly. Some try to move too fast without a concrete plan, losing steam when things don’t work out.

The upshot? Businesses often have good intentions – but the execution isn’t quite there yet.

Fortunately, the ACT programme’s research has resulted in two frameworks that offer tangible guidance for organisations: GOOD FINANCE and UTOPIA. These offer clear, practical and measurable actions for companies that want to formalise their ED&I efforts.

Each letter of the GOOD FINANCE and UTOPIA frameworks represents a specific recommendation, such as flexibility (F), networking (N) and Productivity (P).

Networking, for example, encourages businesses to reach out to other organisations to form a network of ‘gatekeepers’ who can work together to actively open doors for talented and ambitious women.

“It’s been two years since we designed the GOOD FINANCE framework, and we’ve now had great feedback from a lot of the big organisations that participated telling us that these actions are really starting to work,” Dr Virhia says.

A core theme running through the ACT programme is that while its individual reports may focus on specific demographics, such as women, the recommendations are designed to create a better working environment for everyone.

This is also true for the LSE’s latest project – a study investigating the links between ED&I and productivity. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, it’s part of a larger research collaboration to better understand what helps and hinders certain groups reaching their full potential.

“UK productivity is nearly 20% lower than some of its closest competitors, and it’s been virtually stagnant since the global financial crisis in 2008,” Dr Virhia explained.

“At the same time, we have an issue with diversity – people from underrepresented groups are substantially less likely to access and succeed in the most productive career pathways. What we want to find out is whether resolving the diversity problem could also help resolve our productivity problem.”

Amplifying diverse voices is crucial because much of the existing research on productivity focuses on white men. For this project, professionals at all levels of seniority (from early career through to the C-suite) are being interviewed across the finance, manufacturing, retail, public service and technology sectors.

“Productivity hasn’t been reappraised or investigated from a diversity angle before,” said Dr Virhia.

“So we want to speak to Black and Asian men and women. Those who are neurodiverse, disabled, blind or partially sighted. People who are trans or genderfluid, as well as men and women from various socio-economic backgrounds. That’ll help us really understand what enables productivity and address the blockers that are currently preventing people from fulfilling their potential.”

As with the 100 Diverse Voices report, Barclay Simpson is supporting this research by reaching out to members of our community to find people from a range of backgrounds who may be willing to take part.

The interviews are currently underway, and the feedback so far is that organisations often have legacy systems and processes that are not conducive to productivity.

Unstructured meetings with no agendas and unclear outcomes are a good example. Inflexible, bureaucratic procedures are another, reflecting a ‘this is how it’s always been done’ mentality that stifles enthusiasm and innovation, particularly at large firms.

But most of all, interviewees are saying that individual productivity often comes down to the people around you. Ultimately, the key to creating happy, healthy (and productive) workplaces is to have leaders, managers and colleagues who inspire you and make you feel included and valued.

Build for the future

If you’d like to learn more about the fantastic research that the WIBF and the Inclusion Initiative are doing, please visit their websites for more information here and here.

I also encourage everyone within my network – whether you’re a recruiter, client or professional – to get in touch if you’d like to be directly involved in their projects.

At Barclay Simpson, we support the work that organisations like the WIBF and LSE do because we believe actions speak louder than words. Like many businesses, we’re on an ED&I journey, but every journey must have a destination.

That’s why research such as this is so important – it provides employers with clear, evidence-led measures that they can adopt and track their progress against. We believe this is essential to building an equal, diverse and inclusive environment for everyone.

How Barclay Simpson can support your ED&I efforts

Find out more about Barclay Simpson’s commitment to equal opportunities for all here, or get in touch today to discuss how we can support your efforts.