Could a sea-change be underway in the diversity debate that will take the emphasis off government policy and instead throw the actions of firms into sharp relief? That certainly seems to be the case, with news that Lloyds Banking Group has set some ambitious – and, indeed, unprecedented – representation targets.

In an announcement of 12 February, the finance giant committed to raising its proportions of BAME staff to 8% of senior management, and 10% of its total workforce, by 2020. (At present, those figures stand at 5.6% and 8.3% respectively.)

In establishing those goals, the Group has become the first firm in the FTSE 100 ever to set an official target for the percentage of non-whites in senior roles. The initiative will be supported by three mechanisms:

  • career-development programmes for BAME colleagues and leadership programmes for senior management;
  • an increased visibility of BAME role models, and
  • an employee network designed to celebrate the diversity of the firm’s ethnic and cultural heritage.

Lloyds Banking Group director of responsible business and inclusion Fiona Cannon said: “What gets measured gets done, and we are confident we can meet our diversity goals with the right focus and determination. We recognise that companies with diverse management teams perform better and have made a public commitment to create a truly inclusive workforce. It is our ambition to better reflect the customers and communities which we serve.” She added: “Our data shows that while we are making good progress, we think this rate of progress is too slow, so we are committing to bring change sooner.” Does this mark a shift whereby the clamour for government-backed quotas will recede, and corporations will lead the way by themselves?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “I’ve actually met Fiona Cannon – we talked about workplace issues when we attended a session of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work. The theme of that meeting was flexible working, and Fiona was absolutely unequivocal on the point that, when a firm is considering any staff-based initiative that aims to ring significant changes, there has to be a strong business case for it. I totally agree with that assessment.

Cooper explains: “If an organisation has, throughout its entire hierarchy, staff who accurately represent its customers, then that company is automatically going to have a better understanding of what those customers need. It will also be much more focused when it comes to delivering the relevant products and services. If you confine your talent pool, then reaching that level of clarity and insight becomes a lot harder to achieve.

“Grant Thornton has been doing some really interesting work on this front by throwing out traditional academic barriers to entry – a decision that led to a 47% increase in applications to its school-leaver programme last year, plus the top spot in the first-ever Social Mobility Employer Index. That widening of a talent pool helps an organisation to find better staff, make different and more creative decisions and be more innovative. Similarly, Lloyds wouldn’t be taking this course of action on representation if it didn’t think there was a compelling, economic reason for doing so.”

An encouraging part of these schemes, Cooper notes, is that “once an organisation such as Lloyds or Grant Thornton has embarked upon a change-making initiative to shake up its staffing policy, its rivals will very likely re-examine their own arrangements. They will sit down and work out whether they, too, could yield economic benefits from implementing similar programmes. On that basis, there is certainly a lot of scope for change-making momentum to build among the business community, without government measures, in relation to issues such as diversity.”

However, she adds, “it is very much the ‘sitting down and working out’ phase that’s crucial, here: before an initiative gets underway, it must be supported by a strong business case.”

For further thoughts on appreciating diversity, check out these learning resources from the Institute

Image of Lloyds Banking Group homepage courtesy of Casimiro PT, via Shutterstock