By Sathyendra Kumar, Director – Client Services

Look at the mid to senior level of organizations, and you can see that most are still struggling with diversity. Whichever benchmark you use – race, gender, sexuality or social mobility – we are a long way off from achieving equal representation at these senior grades. Businesses often reach for a short-term fix, opting to head hunt from a static pool of existing diverse senior talent. Simply moving this cohort around will not broaden the base of diverse talent. We need a new approach.

The imperative to build diverse workforces is not just a moral one. Diversity works. A 2020 McKinsey study found that companies with the most ethnically diverse leadership teams were more likely to experience higher profits. McKinsey discovered a substantial performance differential – 48% – between the most and least gender-diverse companies. So how do you ensure a sustainable future for diverse senior talent?

Focus on early talent

The answer to unlocking the benefits of diversity is to focus on early talent. To build those early talent networks that will nurture and grow diverse employees into critical senior roles as part of their career roadmap. Rather than the unsustainable focus on a narrow, pre-existing group of talent, this long-term approach extends opportunity and inclusion to more and more people.

The first step is attracting early talent from the most diverse possible pool. A key strategy for attracting that talent is to celebrate employees from diverse backgrounds. Encourage them to share their stories of inclusion and development through videos, blogs and in-person events. Promoting these varied, authentic case studies to a diverse candidate community will build your attractiveness as an employer with a much wider audience.

Resist the temptation to focus on one area of diversity to the exclusion of others. DEI strategies and conversations at present are prone to focusing exclusively on gender, singling out female hires in the boardroom. To earn a reputation as a front-runner in the DEI space, your strategy needs to be broader and aimed at boosting diversity, equality and inclusion across every group.

Put culture first

Diversity won’t flourish without an inclusive culture. Diverse talent will not join or stay in an organization where they do not feel they can thrive. That culture needs to be a reality before you move on to attraction campaigns to boost diversity. You need to analyze and then adjust your culture, practices and processes to create that reality. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are employees from all backgrounds achieving equal pay at equal grades?
  • Is work equally and equitably distributed?
  • Do people from all backgrounds achieve promotion and development opportunities at equal rates?
  • Do particular groups in your workforce leave the company at faster rates than others, or burn out more frequently? If so, why?
  • Do people from all backgrounds feel safe and welcome? Do you have systems in place to monitor and deal with any harassment, bullying or prejudice?

Inclusion needs to be actively embedded in your attraction, onboarding and development processes. Your attraction material needs to be written in inclusive language. Your onboarding needs to link diverse new joiners with internal support networks. And your development plans need to provide them with a structured growth roadmap. Clearly communicate these roadmaps right through the attraction process. They act as clear statements of intent. Demonstrate the reality behind the promise with case studies of individuals already progressing along that path. Success breeds success, and over time you will build a valuable store of these case studies.

Redefine roles to combat the gender skills deficit

Certain roles disproportionately favor certain genders. In heavy industry, for example, there are few women working in engineering or operational roles. Hiring practices can make this a self-fulfilling stereotype: “this role involves some heavy lifting, so might require a male candidate.” It’s part of HR’s role to challenge the stereotypes that discriminate on gender and the hiring managers who translate these out-of-date views into their job specs. Failure to do so just perpetuates the cycle of exclusion and will continue to limit the roles and opportunities open to women.

Start by reevaluating how roles are described. Analyze the work environments and explore if the addition of extra tools or resources can unlock a redefinition of the role and skills requirements and extend the appeal and relevance of the role beyond a single gender. This will not only attract a wider, less gender-biased external talent pool, it creates an environment where internal female talent can move across your organization into traditionally male-dominated areas. It creates a virtuous circle where women in these roles proactively use their leadership to build gender-diverse early talent. Actively encouraging female applicants for internships and apprenticeships in historically male domains is a great place to start. It sends a clear message, will help transform internal attitudes and inspire other women to follow those pathways.

An ongoing focus, not a one-off event

Headhunting diverse candidates for niche roles or delivering a one-off diversity drive will not make you an Equal Opportunity Employer. That takes ongoing analysis, strategy and action focused on becoming an organization diverse talent wants to join and where it can thrive.

Make a study on workforce diversity part of HR’s key deliverables. Ask them to highlight areas where representation is weak, identify the causes and plan the actions to redress those gaps and imbalances. Run this process annually and you will continue to improve your ability to attract diverse talent. By putting plans to empower and develop diverse early talent at the heart of these strategies, you’ll be building a sustainable, equitable and attractive workplace.


  • Early talent programs promoting diversity are the only sustainable way to increase the diversity of senior leaders.
  • Attraction drives should target the widest possible talent pool – not single groups – and promote the lived experience of current diverse employees.
  • Fix the reality before promoting the opportunity: benchmark and adjust your culture before setting out to attract diverse talent.
  • Continually review your attraction, onboarding and development processes to build an inclusive culture.
  • Make the analysis of your performance an ongoing commitment against which you can continually evolve your strategies.