This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.

Discussing EDI reward, targets and quotas are some of my least favourite topics, second only to terminology. It is like quicksand. Setting EDI targets is always controversial. Should goals or targets be set? Which behaviours do they lead to? What kind of backlash might be set in motion? How do you set the target? How do you account for all the nuance within each protected characteristic?    

On the other hand, what gets measured gets done. Organisations have measures for all sorts of things they care about – why not EDI?  And since the law has given us the ability to take Positive Action recognising imbalances in the system,’ why wouldnt we use all the tools and levers available? 

Section 159 of The Equality Act defines Positive Action, and it can be summarised as follows: positive actioninrecruitmentand promotion can be used where an employer reasonably thinks that people with a protected characteristic are under-represented in the workforce, or suffer a disadvantage connected to that protected characteristic.  

The critical thing about a good EDI strategy is that it demonstrates that everyone in an organisation is valued. It expresses that, to be truly successful and reap the benefits of a diverse workforce, it is vital to develop and sustain an inclusive environment in which  everyone feels able to participate and achieve their potential. Targets and Quotas only work when it is clear how they relate to that overall aspiration. (See my recent blog The Drive for Data).  

It is important to understand the baseline and find ways of measuring progress and effectiveness. This necessarily requires setting targets and goals against key processes and behaviours. These can be identified through employee data and feedback and should align to the organisations culture and employee engagement approach. They can then be embedded in recruitment, induction, talent management and career advancement.   

Targets can be set for the whole organisation, for constituent parts of it, or for individuals, be that via everyones PDR (Personal Development Review), or by being included in the personal objectives of members of the Executive and Leadership team

There can be a lot of confusion in these discussions. In some places targets are just not part of the culture of an organisation and so setting them for EDI can be very jarring. Positive action is often misunderstood and felt to be positive discrimination. There is a fear that by setting targets you are creating unfair advantage – essentially choosing someone for their characteristics rather than their fit for the role.  For many there is real concern and fear of setting targets due to uncertainty as to how they will be met. Any measurement can result in perverse behaviours, outcomes, or a tick box’ mentality that undertakes the letter of the target, but doesnt understand the spirit, purpose and ethos.   

In deciding whether to set targets it is important that your EDI strategy clearly articulates what you are trying to achieve. Then you can define the purpose of a target. Is it trying to change behaviour, and fundamentally develop a different culture? Is it trying to show the efficiency of a process? These are very different things!   

At Kings we have a number of key performance indicators – they can be found here – and we also seek to measure our success via external charter marks and benchmarks, including the Athena Swan and Race Equality Chartermarks, The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, and the Business Disability Forums Disability Standard.   

Falling into a similarly, easily misunderstood and controversial category are quota shortlists. This is a positive action measure; a mechanism and a proactive practice that is intended to increase diversity across an organisation.   

Positive Action effectively means that for any recruitment process you identify a minimum threshold for whatever area you are targeting, e.g % of women on the shortlist for leadership roles if your data shows an underrepresentation in this area. It is sometimes referred to as The Rooney Rule, borrowing this name from a high-profile use of Positive Action in the USA. 

The Rooney Ruleis an American National Football League policy that requires league teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. It is an example of affirmative action, even though there is no hiring quota or hiring preference given to minorities, only an interviewing quota.  

Positive action measures, like quota shortlists that are based on good evidence, like employee data analysis, and are supported with the right training and guidance as part of an overall strategic approach, can support the recruitment process. They can help in identifying and developing diverse talent. These shortlists can be used to track progress in improving underrepresentation. Quotas can demonstrate real insight and commitment from an organisation and a determination to address their diversity representation.    

Equally all processes are still operated by people, so the organisation and its people need to fully understand why this is being done and how to implement it effectively.  Without enough understanding of how disadvantage and underrepresentation occur it is easy for others to assume that candidates coming through on quota shortlists do not meet the standard and are not succeeding on merit. The bad feeling that can result is one of the biggest dangers with targets and quotas. The reciprocal pitfall for those who are talented and from underrepresented groups, is the feeling that they have somehow been tokenised, or the internalisation of the belief that they are less than worthy.  

Turning to money, organisations need to provide adequate financial reward to their people (I also discussed pay gaps and pay transparency in The Drive for Data). Ideally this is based on a clear reward strategy involving policies and practices that support organisational objectives. It should aim to enable a motivated, valued and effective workforce. Depending on the type of organisation, reward policies might implement benchmarked benefits, bonuses and pay incentives. These can encourage loyalty, and, by offering competitive terms, conditions and benefits, attract new, diverse talent.  

At Kings a fundamental part of our reward approach is ensuring everyone is paid a living wage. The living wage is a UK wage rate that is voluntarily paid by 7,000 UK businesses, set by the Living Wage Foundation to reflect and meet everyday needs – like the weekly shop, or an unplanned trip to the dentist. The London Living Wage is currently £10.85 per hour. 

The Living Wage Foundation logo.

One of the things we talk about in HR circles is the psychological contract.   

Thepsychological contractrefers to the unwritten set of expectations of the employment relationship, as distinct from the formal, codified employmentcontract. Taken together, thepsychological contractand the employmentcontractdefine the employer-employee relationship.  

Included in this is trust which I discussed in an early blog in this series, The Trust About Trust. In essence it sets out the expectations around the organisational culture, what will be required from an employee and what they will get in return.  

Ensuring there is a positive psychological contract allows individuals to appreciate the total reward package. It also allows for all positive action, targets and quotas to be understood and bought into. Where the psychological contract is weak there is a tendency for employees to easily believe the worst of their organisation and to fall into distrust and cynicism.  

Organisations that ensure everyone understands expectations, and what it will take to be a successful employee who is rewarded, are the ones that see the most success. To do it well, this information should be documented and shared as part of employees inductions.   

So, these are all tools available to us. It is critical that EDI practitioners work with leadership and communications colleagues across the organisation to continuously demonstrate and explain how and why these measures increase fairness and make the organisation a better place to be.