This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. Learn more


Diversity and inclusion continues to be a top priority for business leaders around the world, and quite rightly so. After all, ecosystems thrive on diversity, and the world of business is no different. But, the journey to building a truly diverse and inclusive workplace can often be a long and daunting one.  So, in this podcast episode we’re sharing practical tips and advice to help you drive forward the diversity agenda within your organisation.

Podcast notes:

What do we really mean by diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

  • It’s very easy for us to start that conversation with gender and race, but diversity isn’t just about that, it goes far beyond that. It’s essentially about embracing difference. It’s about valuing, recognising, respecting, embracing and including individual differences and believing that that can add value to our workplace.
  • There’s a great analogy that I think works well when talking about diversity and inclusion – if we think of diversity as being invited to a party, and inclusion as actually being asked to dance when you get there.
  • Another helpful way of thinking about it, which is very real for all of us – think about a time when you personally felt excluded, you’ll find that the experiences you think of don’t necessarily have anything to do with race and gender. There are probably people within your organisation who are feeling exactly the same right now. And, as a result, perhaps not being as engaged or productive as they could be.
  • Diversity alone is not enough, inclusion is about building a culture where everyone feels included and that they belong – essentially that they have been invited to dance at that party we talked about.

Read more: Leaders, to really #PressForProgress, lets think beyond gender

Thanks Sandra, great analogy there. In your role as Group Head of People & Culture at Hays, I’m sure this is a topic which is particularly close to your heart, why is that?

  • Every organisation wants really talented people who are engaged and productive. Who can thrive and flourish in that organisation, because everyone benefits from the macro-level of society to the employee, to the organisation.
  • Another reason why I am passionate about it is our clients want our help.  We are being asked for our expertise and guidance on this every single day. Clearly we can’t provide this if we don’t have our own diversity and inclusion story to tell.
  • From a broader societal aspect, we have a role to play as a market leader, and as a people business. I’m excited that we are part of that broader conversation, both internally and externally.
  • It makes absolute business sense for our people to reflect our customer base, particularly as a people business.

You’re clearly passionate about the subject. Can you tell us a bit about Hays’ diversity and inclusion journey to date?

  • I’m very proud of the culture we have at Hays, we describe it as high performance and a true meritocracy. We really don’t care about people’s backgrounds, if they can deliver the results for our customers. But that doesn’t mean we’re perfect. We’re on a journey and we’re very much still on the road. We’ve done a few things to help push this agenda along:
    • We created a role of Global Head of Diversity three years ago. That role’s objective is to make sure that we are driving diversity and inclusion across our business. Sharing great practice across the countries we operate in. But also to interface externally with the market to stay on top of what is going on in terms of initiatives, talking to the very best providers in this space and sharing this information with our customers and internally.
    • We have recently been accredited the National Equality Standard  (NES) award in the UK. This is considered the gold standard of diversity and inclusion culturally.
    • We also work very hard in Spain, for example, partnering with ‘Inspiring Girls’ which is a very high profile mentorship program for young women in Spain. We also work actively with the Male Champions for Change programme in Australia, and the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience. One other example is from Italy, where  we won the award of Disability Recruiter of the Year in the last 12 months.
    • We’ve got a lot more to do, this is a continual evolution, it’s a journey. We recognise that there’s a lot more to do, but I am very excited about where we are now.

In your opinion, what progress has been made generally in the world of work, and has there been enough?

  • We’ve just celebrated having 125 years of women having the vote in New Zealand, and 100 years of suffrage in the UK. We’ve come a long way in that time. I certainly believe that we are having conversations today in the workplace that we wouldn’t even have had two or three years ago.
  • So progress is happening, talent pools and hiring is more diverse. The processes and practices around that is changing too. But every single country is at a different stage in its maturity in terms of employment, and that’s definitely what we’re seeing across our 33 countries, and across certain industries.
  • More progress is to be made, but plenty is going on. I still think that diversity and inclusion can be seen as a problem to be solved, so that you can get on with other things. And that’s absolutely not the approach that we’ve taken here at Hays. We’ve seen it as a conversation to have and a gentle shifting of culture, rather than trying to fix any particular issue or problem.
  • There’s still work to do in terms of businesses really looking at the reality within their businesses and having very mature and confident conversations around what’s real instead of what’s perceived.
  • I think the more open, honest and transparent we can be in this space, the easier it is to push the dial culturally for companies.

For those leaders just starting out in their diversity journey – what initial actions would you recommend that they focus on?

  • It is a journey – I know this is an overused phrase but it really is. It’s an evolution of culture so there’s no one size fits all approach, here are a few things that we have learnt with our experience at Hays:
    • Take a considered approach and don’t dive in head first.
    • Don’t look at this necessarily as a problem to solve, unless you have a systemic issue in your culture. Start by understanding what the definition of diversity and inclusion is in your business. Talk to your people and engage everyone in an inclusive way. It can be counter-productive to inadvertently to exclude parts of your employee population from this conversation.
    • Think about quick wins, at Hays we discovered that we were making it unnecessarily complicated for parents to take parental leave. So we very quickly re-engineered our process and made that policy and procedure a lot smoother and easier to engage with. That showed people very quickly that we were taking this seriously in a very simple way.
    • Another thing that we have learned is that we really have to gather data about our employee population, and that can be counter-intuitive. If you see your culture as a meritocracy, it can feel odd going to your employees and asking for quite private information about their religious affiliations or their ethnicity. But if you can do that in a safe and anonymous way, it gives you a really good and honest shape of what your employee population looks like and where you might need to prioritise your time, energy and resources.
    • From that data, being able to step back and have mature and confident conversations with the leadership in your business, and making it safe and inclusive to have those conversations, even at that level, is important.
    • That then helps you build a business case, which can help generate greater results. Sometimes in HR we assume that everyone gets that stuff, because we spend all day thinking about it, but building a case and taking all of your leaders on that journey with you is important.
    • Another key is understanding what your organisation is already doing really well, they might be small but celebrate those. During our accreditation process for the NES, over a hundred people were interviewed and unanimously they told us that they believed our culture was a meritocracy and they felt very much supported in their careers. That was something that was really worth communicating and celebrating across our employee population.
    • Also, prioritising – you can’t do everything all at once.  That’s okay, as long as you’re communicating what you are doing to take a measured approach and fix what you can very quickly and take a longer-term view on the more complex issues. Think about accountability, consequences and progress. How are you measuring this, why are you talking about it, and most importantly, and what are the people at the very top of your organisation saying about this message. This is not the domain of HR – this is a broader leadership responsibility, and I think that’s really key.
    • Finally, accept that it’s going to make some people uncomfortable. Just getting comfortable with people being uncomfortable is part of being a leader in an organisation. But if people feel like they are being taken along for the conversation they are far more likely to open up.

Read more: How to encourage ‘Inclusive Leadership’ in your organisation

And, how important do you think senior stakeholder buy in is? Is it just the C-suite’s responsibility to drive this forward?

  • It is absolutely key that that stamp is established early on by the people at the top of the business. But it’s also how you define leadership, I think every single person in an organisation has a leadership role to play, and every single person contributes to what that culture looks like. Culture is after all just a set of behaviours and attitudes created by the people who are part of it.
  • Middle management is very important because they are often executing the strategy at the front line with people. They’re having coaching conversations and performance appraisals, they are the ones with a real sense and a real finger on the pulse about what might be holding certain parts of the population back.
  • It’s not just down to leadership and management, we all have a part to play in this, and we need to include everyone in accountability for this. How certain people behave in an organisation with their colleagues and peers needs to be accountable. There are certain behaviours that aren’t acceptable if you are trying to build a culture of diversity and inclusion. We’re all human and we all have unconscious bias, so we all need to take accountability and be aware of that. So we’re all in it together.

In terms of recruiting diverse teams, what measures can businesses introduce to ensure that their recruitment and hiring processes are as inclusive as possible?

  • There’s a lot of conversation around the world the work of ‘should all CVs be blind?’, so no name or reference to gender or background. This is certainly something worth considering, and something we do in our own assessment process.
  • So wherever you can build diversity into that experience of hiring people, you will get a better result. For example, we have one person who does the initial screening and interview, someone else who attends the assessment centre, and another individual who does the post-interview, and another who makes the actual offer, wherever possible. We try to make this group of people as diverse as we can, we’re not perfect but we certainly work towards that.
  • An aggregated scoring system in that process is important, as well as honest conversations amongst those assessors, after the process, sharing and challenging one another on their decision making.
  • We’re also committed to unconscious bias training, we call it ‘open mind training’. Everyone who is involved with internal hiring is involved with that, and rolling that our broadly to front-line management. Just so we can all be aware of how that may have a negative impact on our hiring process.

Read more: Getting the best from blind recruitment

Once recruited, how can business leaders build an inclusive culture?

  • Communicate values from the top, what do we value is not always written down in a policy or procedure. Cultural norms are often unspoken. What do we celebrate and reward? Informally – what do we say a ‘well done’ for,  what do we say ‘actually, that’s unacceptable that you treat other people that way’? Those things need to be clearly defined and identified.
  • Introducing this to people right from the beginning – talking about your culture in the interview process. Talking about what you value when you’re hiring people. And then again, as soon as you’re onboarding and including people in your culture, talking about what you value.
  • Delivering unconscious bias training to people early on and building pockets of inclusiveness and peer groups where people feel a sense of community and a sense of belonging. It’s going to engage your employees quickly, you’re going to get more productivity and it creates a greater accountability for behaviour.
  • Have a look at how you review performance – what are you praising, what do you value, what are you paying bonuses for? What behaviours are you rewarding through that process?
  • And language is so important. The power of language,  what we celebrate through language, and the language we encourage our employees to use.
  • Create transparency – organisations are now flatter and less formal than they ever have been, a by-product of this is a greater demand for authenticity and transparency. We’re a best employer on Glassdoor, where at any time our employees can review their employment experience with us, unmoderated, unfiltered, and anonymously. And that creates a huge drive for transparency in organisations. Embrace that. Resisting is going to have a negative impact on diversity and inclusion.

Read more: Why diversity isn’t a hindrance to efficiency

And finally, and this is a question we will be asking all of our podcast guests, what do you think are the top three qualities that make a good leader?

  • This question really gave me pause to think. If I can try to distil that into a few words: sincerity, authenticity, and trust. A part of that is an openness to change, I think it’s dangerous for any of us to think we’ve done and have learnt everything. So, regardless of how senior a leader is, constantly questioning, understanding that we’re human, being sincere about our own shortcomings and being prepared to evolve and grow with the organisation.
  • People also respond to the energy of their leaders. In order to make change, we have to be energetic about it because this is what we expect from everyone in an organisation.
  • Finally, probably the easiest thing to say and the hardest one to nail, is consistency and clarity. Being really clear about who we are as an organisation, what we believe, what  we value, why we are  here. And that changes. Certainly in my working life I’ve changed. What I stand for and believe has changed, and of course the organisation I work for has also changed and evolved. It’s got to be okay to question this, but we need to be clear about who we are right now and what we are trying to achieve in this moment.

Looking for some more leadership advice? Then you might find some of our other blogs useful:

Did you enjoy this podcast? Subscribe to the Hays Worldwide Leadership Insights podcast on SoundCloudand download it on Apple Podcasts.


Based in London, Sandra is the Group Head and UK/I Director of People and Culture for Hays.  Prior to this Sandra held a similar role for Hays in the Asia Pacific region, based in Sydney.  Sandra is passionate about organisational culture and its role in driving every aspect of business results.

Share this