Guest Comment By Mayur Gupta
Tackling diversity and inclusion is high on the corporate agenda, but the reality is that many firms are still failing to be attractive places for underrepresented groups to work.
A 2022 report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that despite 78% of leaders understanding how an inclusive workplace and diverse workforce can benefit the organisation, 20% of employers said leaders are not very committed, or not at all committed to having a diverse workforce.
Another report commissioned by the European Commission, found that while a large majority of SMEs acknowledge the business benefits and relevance of diversity, only a minority actually adopt formal HR strategies to address the issues.
In its survey of 1,200 small firms across 27 European countries, the EC report found that a number of practical obstacles stand in the way of companies developing formal D&I approaches, with the most frequently reported being low levels of staff time, few financial resources, economic insecurity and the absence of a formal HR management process.
One option for SME’s is to consider is mentoring young people in their local communities. Through our schools outreach and mentoring programmes we are connecting businesses with diverse young people from often disadvantaged backgrounds.
By bringing young people together with mentors from business they can develop knowledge and skills that are valued in the workplace
This can be a valuable way for firms to address their skills shortages, build diverse talent pipelines and tackle growing inequalities in education and employment, as well as provide developmental opportunities for their employees.
By bringing young people together with mentors from business they can develop knowledge and skills that are valued in the workplace, as well as find out about career pathways they may not have been aware of.
It can be a way for SMEs to start their diversity journey and enable their employees to strengthen their transferable skills through mentoring, guiding or training young people.
We work with many companies including Cisco, Centrica, Pearson, Just Eat, Vodafone and GoCardless on mentoring programmes for students from diverse backgrounds. These include the new Neurodiversity and Disability Programme and LGBT+ business mentoring to prepare young people for successful careers.
The aim is for students to learn about careers, gain soft skills before entering the workplace and engage with mentors from similar backgrounds who can inspire them. One company that has benefited from the programme is Cisco who, over the past three years has been helping young people from low income and diverse backgrounds prepare for careers in the digital sector. They run a schools programme, as well as a LGBT+ programme and Neurodiversity and Disability programme.
mentoring someone helps employees develop communication skills and understand the needs of people who have barely started in software development
Speaking about his experience mentoring a young person called Kade, Alvaro Berruga from Cisco said that it was great making an impact in someone’s career by helping them in areas that they are not familiar with yet. Alvaro was able to help Kade improve his software engineering skills, giving him suggestions on how to deal with his manager to achieve his goals and setting a roadmap of things he could work on.
He adds that he learned a lot too pointing out that mentoring someone helps employees develop communication skills and understand the needs of people who have barely started in software development. This is very useful when managing a team, or even when helping an intern or newcomer in the company.
Centrica has also taken part in the programme over the past three years, firstly with their race network, and more recently they have started neurodiversity and disability mentoring.
One of the first things they did was offer work experience to students from diverse backgrounds. Students in their final year of GCSE’s or studying for ‘A’ levels were based in British Gas’s commercial team, gaining exposure to different parts of the business to help prepare them for their future careers.
More recently Centrica have taken part in the Neurodiversity and Disability Programme for students with special educational needs who continue to be unrepresented in career opportunities.
After five employees went through the mentoring training they mentored 16 young people from The Tower Project, an organisation supporting the disabled community in London who were matched up based on similar interest and backgrounds. The mentors found it a rewarding experience that was useful for their professional development.
Mayur Gupta is CEO at Career Accelerator