How assessment can help build the foundations for more diverse leadership

Achieving diversity within the workplace, and specifically at executive level, has been a long-standing challenge within the world of work. A more diverse workforce brings with it a broader range of experiences, skills and perspectives that are fundamental for creativity, productivity and business success. Positive steps have been taken in recent years to improve diversity – 96% of FTSE 100 firms now have at least one director from an ethnic minority on their board, and in the last few weeks it has been announced that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is leading a review, on how the Government can work with employers to help more autistic people realise their potential and get into work.

However, many still predict that building a diverse workforce will remain a challenge for the foreseeable future. A recent survey revealed that just 16% of UK workers feel their employers are inclusive to neurodivergent individuals, while analysis by MSCI suggests that gender inequality in boardrooms will not be eliminated until 2038 if the current rate of improvement in female representation doesn’t change.

Clearly, building diversity, particularly at the senior leadership level, isn’t a challenge that will be solved quickly, especially as businesses will want to avoid it simply becoming a box ticking exercise. Regardless of any targets they may face, business leaders will always want to ensure the best people are in place to lead the organisation effectively, as opposed to approaching a recruitment or development initiative with a specific demographic in mind.

So how can organisations approach diverse leadership in the right way?

Firstly, there needs to be a pipeline of diverse talent available within the business. Businesses need to create an environment that fosters a sense of belonging for every individual so that diversity naturally becomes a central component of the organisation, and eventually its executive population. However, this is only made possible by taking a number of different steps towards more diverse recruitment and moving away from some of the more standard, outdated practices – such as mandating the requirement for a degree – and instead focusing on the key skills, behaviours and personal attributes required to succeed within the organisation. Applicants can then be objectively assessed against these criteria to gauge their ability to perform in-role.

Taking a more skills-first approach to selecting candidates is becoming increasingly popular within the world of work, as organisations are recognising the value in hiring individuals based specifically on their ability to do the job, as opposed to their educational qualifications or industry specific experience. This then opens the door to anyone who may have been unable to pursue further education due to their socioeconomic background, as well as individuals who have had care responsibilities or a disability limit their opportunities to enter the world of work and acquire professional qualifications.

Having a comprehensive assessment process in place that identifies suitable candidates based solely on whether they possess the skills and character traits needed for the role, helps to widen the net being cast out when recruiting, and removes elements of unconscious bias from hiring decisions; enabling greater diversity, equity and inclusion to naturally filter into the wider workforce.

Development and diversity go hand-in-hand

Once more diverse assessment practices are at the heart of an organisation’s talent attraction strategy and have enabled more diverse talent to be brought into the workforce, organisations can shift their focus towards supporting employees in reaching their full potential and having the confidence to pursue a career path towards senior leadership.

Again, assessment will play a key role. Organisations need to ask themselves, what skills and attributes are we looking for in our senior leaders and what members of our existing workforce possess the qualities to become future leaders? Investing in a structured development programme for those individuals identified as having the potential to succeed in a leadership role, will start to build a pipeline of diverse internal talent. And as this talent begins to filter into the executive population, it is hoped that employees will see more people they resonate with in senior positions, and feel motivated to aspire towards the same level of career development and progression themselves.

With ManpowerGroup research revealing that Gen Z will make up 27% of the workforce by 2025 and 56% of them saying they would not accept a role without diverse leadership; it’s clear that achieving diversity at an executive level will continue to be a determining factor for organisational success in the future. Which is why business leaders will first have to lay the correct foundations to begin creating a culture of diversity, a foundation that should be built upon unbiased, well-constructed assessment practices.