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Research by Grant Thornton for its 2021 Women in Business report shows that creating an inclusive culture is a high priority for achieving gender equality in leadership. But why has it become even more vital in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic?
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The impact of COVID-19 on the workforce, with so many people moving to long-term remote or hybrid working models, has made inclusiveness more important than ever. Research for the 2021 Grant Thornton Women in Business report shows that businesses are recognising this and taking deliberate action to foster employee engagement and a culture of inclusion. Creating an environment of open communication, where all staff feel able to express their ideas and issues, is a priority for 43% of businesses, with the same proportion believing their emphasis on it will grow in the future.

Deliberate action on diversity

Establishing a culture of inclusion is central to increasing diversity at all levels of an organisation, and thereby growing gender parity within senior management. It also helps to create the resilience that businesses need to weather global crises. The more included employees feel, the more innovative they are in their jobs, and the more engaged they are individually with the company’s purpose.

“Having diverse teams makes companies more competitive – it increases innovation and productivity, leads to better performance and problem-solving, reduces groupthink and enhances decision-making,” confirms Allyson Zimmermann, executive director, Europe, Middle East & Africa, at Catalyst. “To achieve this, there needs to be an alignment between a company’s stated values, policies, practices and culture that is then reflected in the rewards and recognition given.”

Committing to an inclusive culture

Dan Holland.pngIn other words, an inclusive culture must be authentic to the business and its purpose. “It has to be more than a mission statement,” says Dan Holland, partner and head of D&I at Grant Thornton Ireland. “For a firm to be genuinely inclusive and accepting of diversity, you need platforms for people to present their ideas.

“There has got to be a desire to proactively hear from everybody within the firm, no matter who they are or what their background is, and to show them that they’re respected.” These goals need to be hardwired into the business, and aligned with its strategic aspirations.

All cultural goals should be role-modelled by leaders and key influencers, and cascaded through the company, because an inclusive culture is also one where people can identify a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives being advanced.

Ngozi Ogwo.png“Diversity must be seen at every level within the organisation,” says Ngozi Ogwo, managing partner/CEO at Grant Thornton Nigeria. “Businesses need to consciously create that gender balance, especially at managerial level, by giving opportunities to all who qualify.

“There also has to be consistent communication and measurement of goals in open and clear terms. No hidden agenda, no hidden conditions attached.”

The pandemic has highlighted the need to engage all employees in the aims and activities of the business. By fostering collaboration, the resulting inclusive culture will lead to greater productivity, helping organisations to recover.

Francesca Lagerberg 120x120 round image.png“Businesses with diversity at their senior level are more likely to be able to think broader and more laterally, and consider more options,” says Francesca Lagerberg, global leader – network capabilities, at Grant Thornton International. “They tend to be more innovative. That will help them get through this crisis in a constructive way.”

Discover more

Creating an inclusive culture is a key action in increasing gender parity in leadership. Download Grant Thornton’s Women in Business report for the complete picture on how inclusion drives innovation.