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THE LONDON TIMES: Diversity can make all the difference: “The policy has proved good value for Shell…” ( 10 April 05


April 10, 2005


An increasing number of firms are discovering the benefits of attracting and retaining a wider range of employees, writes Roger Eglin


COMPANIES finding it difficult to recruit good people are welcoming a diverse range of employees.


Far from there being a need for tighter controls on immigration, the country’s labour shortages are becoming so acute that we are close to repeating the situation of the 1960s when London Transport resorted to opening recruitment offices in the Caribbean.


The First bus company was so short of drivers for its services in the south of England that it recently began hiring them from Poland. Unable to recruit enough Poles, it has now turned to prisoners on day release from jail.


Meanwhile, there are growing complaints that the NHS is poaching medical staff from Third-World countries.


Lucy McGee of DDI, a management and leadership consultancy, said there was more to come. By 2010 the developed world would be short of about 40m skilled workers.


This trend is already making itself felt in Britain, where demographic pressures are becoming intense with an ageing workforce and a scarcity of young graduates and school leavers.


Senior vacancies are remaining open for longer and recruitment is becoming more of a burden because companies have to interview more people to get the right person. Firms that fail to tackle the problem will find they are denied a choice and forced to settle for the best of a mediocre bunch.


McGee said City employers had shed so many people in past market downturns that they were afraid their reputation for redundancies went before them in competing for talent.


Recent legislation meant employers were legally bound not to discriminate in recruitment. Nevertheless, more companies were choosing to take the initiative because they found the business case for building a diverse workforce increasingly compelling.


Julia Middleton, who runs her own people and leadership consultancy, Common Purpose, said: “The chairman of a large plc told me recently that an all-male, white board makes you look complacent. That’s the last thing you want associated with your organisation.”


Shell is an example of a different sort of company. It has responded to external pressures and has changed dramatically since it embarked on its new policy in 1997.


Leslie Mays, the company’s head of global diversity, said: “Our research showed that the workforce was changing round the world and we needed to adjust our policies. Companies, like people, have to change with the times.”


A decade ago Shell was a closed world. Managers took a commuter train from leafy suburbia to London’s Waterloo station and crossed the road to the company’s headquarters. If they were working abroad but were temporarily posted back to Britain, they could stay in Shell’s comfortable country club in Twickenham.


But then the oil giant decided to change by emphasising diversity in its workforce, and encouraging creativity and different points of view.


Mays said: “Employees tell us that when you bring together a team that represents different perspectives and different experiences, the outcome is richer than if you had a group of people with the same background.”


Since Shell started what she calls “its journey”, the number of senior women employees has risen from less than 4% of management to 9.6%, well above average for British business.


The policy has proved good value for Shell, while employees have benefited from the introduction of telecommuting, career breaks, job sharing and disability policies.


A senior executive such as Sally Martin would have been a rarity a few years ago. She joined Shell in l987 as an engineer and has risen to become distribution manager for the UK and Ireland.


When she started, she was surprised to meet three other women engineers. Now, she says, more people from different backgrounds are joining Shell and staying with it.


An attraction of the policy is the diverse thinking it allows. “If you get a room full of different views, the chances of coming up with a creative solution are much better,” she explained.


Citigroup, the world’s largest bank, embraced the advantages of diversity five years ago. The firm has operations in more than 100 countries employing 280,000 people.


Lynne Fisher, the bank’s managing director of diversity and talent management, said: “In a very competitive industry, we are trying to attract talent from the broadest possible pool. But this policy goes beyond how we attract talent to how we retain it, and how we can help individuals to fulfil their potential regardless of their different backgrounds.”


Since Citigroup started on this path five years ago, it has focused on what Fisher calls “being an employer of choice”.


The bank has built a comprehensive diversity framework headed by a senior committee composed of top executives. Reporting to this are four employee networks covering gender, ethnicity, sexuality and parenting. These are staffed by employees drawn from across the bank who give up their own time.


“One of the benefits has been providing people with an opportunity outside their daily roles,” said Fisher. “It can help them develop skills to be successful in business.”


Senior management’s presence on the committee is important in showing the company takes diversity seriously and that this is seen as contributing to the success of the business.


Rather than just putting forward proposals, Fisher believes it is important “to get some early wins in”. The answer was the creation of the “100-day taskforce”, which had to have a policy up and running — in this case a mentoring programme for women at a key stage in their careers — within this time.


“We think this approach has worked well,” said Fisher. “It has engaged people and has become a regular part of our diversity programme. Now we have hundreds of people involved in the networks.”


Ultimately, Fisher believes that, as diversity becomes a developed feature of life at Citigroup, it will lose its separate identity and become synonymous with talent management.


Middleton has a similar view. She believes that rather than continuing as “a policy”, diversity will become an attitude that is part of an organisation’s culture.



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