Diversity in business must encompass economic as well as moral and legal issues

Diversity drives business performance, delivers economic growth, retains talent and builds successful teams but companies must also recognise its role around social and community-based issues.

That’s the view of Lynne Connolly, global head of diversity and inclusion at Standard Life Aberdeen who will be one of the keynote speakers at The Herald & GenAnalytics Diversity Conference next week.

“Events like this are absolutely critical in helping companiesunderstand the wider importance of diversity,” she said. “It’s not just about one organisation – it goes much deeper than that because it is about building an inclusive society and while we can look at what our own companies are doing, the more we collaborate and learn from other each other the more progress we will make.

“What we find through collaboration is learning we can share with each other and you can also take those learnings that you may not have previously considered and implement them in your own business.

“The actions we take have to be right in the context or your company but you can sometimes leapfrog and save a lot of time – and with such deep societal and community-based issues affecting us at the moment as we recover from the pandemic, events like this conference allow us to come together and share learnings.”

Ms Connolly, who admits that she is “passionate about how we come back from Covid”, pointed out that “with the pandemic still very much front of mind, we are all in this together but we are in different boats”. She added: “Covid has disproportionately impacted certain groups of people in ways we really need to shine a light on.

“We’ve been talking about gender diversity for years and we still need to focus on that. During Covid we have a disproportionate burden placed on carers, for example, and have seen women have to reduce their working hours to accommodate homeschooling – in some cases they have not been able to focus their careers in the same way as men.

“And from a social and economic perspective there are the young people who are more likely to be working the industries most impacted by Covid, such as hospitality and travel. Employment opportunities are also impacted for people coming out of school and college so we have a task ahead to ensure that we keep people engaged and included in our workforce.”

Ms Connolly, who has been involved with The Herald & GenAnalytics Diversity Conference for several years both as a keynote speaker and panellist, noted that ensuring inclusivity for everyone would also extend to the office when more people start returning. “People spending more time in the office might feel part of the ‘in crowd’ while those working from home could more often for whatever reason feel excluded as they are part of the ‘out crowd’,” she said.

“Our role is to build back from Covid and work hard to rebuild businesses and the economy but we must be inclusive and keep people and communities at the core of everything we do to build back.”

She added: “Diversity has tended to be regarded as a moral and legal issue and that is absolutely correct. But I want us to view diversity as an economic issue too – let’s ask ourselves how we can increase participation of all diverse groups in our workforce and look at that as a growth metric.”

The Herald & GenAnalytics Diversity Conference takes place on Thursday, May 20 via the online platform Hopin. It is sponsored by BAE Systems, CMS, Diageo, JP Morgan, Skills Development Scotland and s1jobs.

Chris Rae, partner, real estate team, CMS Scotland, said: “It has become clear that the ability to be your authentic self at work allows you to thrive as an individual, which goes directly to the performance of a business. Likewise, the more diverse and inclusive workplaces are known to create the most successful workplace cultures and communities.

“The potential impact of these factors on the performance of a business is undeniable, making a strong and positive D+I strategy not only the right thing to do in its own right but perfect business sense. I’m looking forward to continuing this vital conversation.”

Carolyn Anderson, panellist and director of human resources at Skills Development Scotland, added: “Our colleagues experienced the pandemic in different ways and had varying concerns and challenges. Through our colleague engagement programme, we have learned how colleagues are feeling and identified what we can flex across the business to help them get through a very difficult time, while simultaneously serving the needs of our customers who have needed SDS more than ever over the last 14 months.”

Lee Corless, global technology diversity and inclusion EMEA lead at JP Morgan, said: “The conference will provide a great opportunity for people across industries to come together and discuss diverse and inclusive ways of working. I’m looking forward to hearing others’ ideas and providing some insight into how we approach this at JP Morgan.”

Other speakers include: Cameron Smith, development worker, Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities; Michael Hilferty, construction site administrator, City Building; Meghan Logue, technical success manager, Odro; Colin MacFarlane, director, Stonewall Scotland & Northern Ireland; Aneela McKenna, diversity, inclusion and wellbeing manager, Scottish Parliament; Mhairi Taylor, head of equality, diversity and inclusion, Glasgow University; and Gary Kildare, who will provide the closing keynote conversation.

Registration is free. For more information visit https://newsquestscotlandevents.com/events/the-diversity-conference/ or contact Nina.Holmes@newsquest.co.uk.