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Diversity – does it matter in shipping?

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Professor Averil Macdonald OBE

Diversity – does it matter in shipping?

by  Professor Averil Macdonald OBE, DSc, D.Univ, FInstP, FRSA. Emeritus Professor University of Reading, Senior Warden Worshipful Company of Fuellers.

Organisations of all sizes across every industry sector are scrutinising their diversity statistics – and for good reason. They know that traditional businesses are being forced to innovate to survive and, just as a football team full of strikers would quickly be relegated, it is clear that organisations full of people from identikit backgrounds, thoughts and experiences are unlikely to stay ahead of the game.

It is widely recognised that organisations with a diverse workforce enjoy better employee engagement, productivity, innovation and retention and those with diverse boards are seen to experience greater growth. In order to enhance success, businesses are building teams of diverse skills and perspectives and the better performing organisations now refuse to accept shortlists which are less than 50% female.

But identifying and attracting the best candidates to apply is a big challenge – it’s not just a matter of advertising and sitting back. It’s now understood that the actual language of an advert can cause the best candidate NOT to apply – and you can’t appoint the best candidates if they don’t apply. While it’s tempting to see your job advert as a way of ‘marking out your territory’ and showing just how dominant you are in the business place, for many of the best candidates, they are more interested in exactly what you need them to do, how much support and training you offer, the opportunities for flexible working or job share and the potential for advancement in the future. Miss that out of your advert and you’ll miss out on their talent.

Then there’s the question of the criteria applied by the interview panel in selecting from your shortlist. Words like adventurous, ambitious, assertive, autonomous, bold, brave, courageous, dominant, forceful, impulsive, self-reliant etc are very popular for interview panels. But this leaves the organisation lacking in talents such as committed, connected, cooperative, dependable, empathic, interpersonal, responsible or supporting – all attributes that enable greater team ethos so shouldn’t be overlooked.

Retaining this talent is another concern. Losing that candidate that you have spent time and money training up is a serious business cost. In a non-inclusive employment environment, employees from diverse backgrounds are more likely to feel dis-engaged and soon move to a more supportive employer. It’s not just gender pay gaps that destroy employee good will and reduce productivity. The transparency (or otherwise) of the promotion process and (the perception of) unfair workload allocation can quickly leave employees questioning whether there are better opportunities elsewhere.

Managers have a significant role to play in talent acquisition and retention. It’s not just a matter of paying well. Defining a role’s requirements carefully, enabling flexible working or job share, allocating tasks fairly and discussing strategies for advancement with employees will reap dividends in terms of employee loyalty and productivity.

While it often feels reassuring to take the ‘tried and tested’ approach, the world is changing and what might have passed the test in years gone by won’t pass muster in the 21st Century.

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