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Gillian Tans discusses her views at World Economic Forum this week in Davos

This week, Chairwoman of Booking.com Gillian Tans is in Davos, at the World Economic Forum. One of Gillian's key focuses will be diversity as a form of empowerment. Her thoughts on why are workplace diversity and inclusion should not be a numbers game is captured in the blog, posted on the WEF website, is below.
Viewpoint
17 Jan 2020
This week, Chairwoman of Booking.com Gillian Tans is in Davos, at the World Economic Forum. One of Gillian's key focuses will be diversity as a form of empowerment. Her thoughts on why are workplace diversity and inclusion should not be a numbers game is captured in the blog, posted on the WEF website, is below.

In today’s numbers-led economy, it is all too easy to think of diversity and inclusion as just another target to meet. Within an organization, having a balance of gender, ethnicity or ages (for example) does not automatically result in inclusivity. Illustrating the economy’s failure to be diverse and inclusive through numbers is a powerful visualization of today’s stark reality. Hard numbers – such as the 99.5 years that it will take to close the global gender gap – draw attention to the scale of the problem. But in searching for a solution, we must do more than just try to balance up the figures.

Using a system based solely on numbers to tackle diversity and inclusion runs the risk of creating a ‘race to the bottom’ as organizations work to achieve minimum requirements. Today, it is the sad reality that many are using these targets as a smokescreen to real change. To unlock people’s potential and reap the rewards of diversity, meaningful cultural change must be implemented - this starts with the attitude and intentions of global business.

Why bother?

The potential benefits of inclusivity in business are overwhelmingly compelling, especially when exploring the influence of gender. In Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, closing the gender gap could add up to 15% of GDP to economies, which for some could be worth over US$6 trillion. Unlocking these benefits must begin with meaningful, positive and measurable action from businesses.

As an industry, the technology sector has been taking steps towards the advancement of women, who accounted for nearly 30% of the industry’s entry level workforce in 2019. Last year, 13.2% of women were promoted, compared to 12.1% of men and the overall hiring rate of women increased to 27.3%. While this progress is inspiring, it also serves as a reminder that true diversity of thought and contribution is only achieved when accompanied by belonging.

Changing the conversation

Diversity and inclusion means advancing across all forms of progressive employment - not just gender. For Booking.com, change starts in our offices, with our company values and ways of working. It can only stem from real empowerment of employees that nurtures an environment where diversity and inclusion are the norm, rather than seen as a ‘tick box’ exercise. Gender provides a good measuring point for the success of initiatives implemented thus far to inform progress with other communities – such as disability inclusion, bringing in people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, LGBTQ+ equality and so on.

Significantly, the focus on gender has shown that tokenism, and implementing ‘diversity’ programs without proper thought, is almost as toxic as inequality. Quota systems, for example, are one initiative that we are seeing organizations implement to appear more diverse. While the sentiment driving this is good – that we need more diverse teams and role models in business – it is difficult to see how these systems actually empower those they are out to support. While targets might be achieved, quotas do little to make every employee feel included. To produce an environment that champions individuality and difference, organizations must inspire and support both those previously underrepresented and those who have always been represented. Only by doing this can perceptions change, and a culture of togetherness and inclusivity thrive.

Making the change

As a leading global technology company and employer, we recognize the role that we can play in championing diversity across all levels within the sector, and we call on other organizations – across all industries – to do the same. At Booking.com, 30% of our leadership team are women, and for like-for-like roles we do not have a gender pay gap. An achievement we are extremely proud of. But, for us, this is only the foundation from which we work to create a diverse and inclusive environment.

Booking.com’s recent number one ranking in the Financial Times’ Diversity Leaders research is evidence that industries can evolve their way of thinking and facilitate an environment of empowerment. The FT surveyed over 80,000 employees in 700 global companies to understand their lived experiences of issues including gender, age, ethnicity and disability in the workplace– essentially capturing the extent to which employees feel empowered. To be the only business to score above 9.0 suggests we are somewhere on the road to empowering every member of our current workforce. Nonetheless, we are acutely aware that there is still much to be done to change the long-ingrained attitudes towards inclusivity and diversity.

By using gender as an example, clearly to change mindsets means building an internal culture of equality and empowerment that focuses on accessibility. Evaluating access to all stages of talent management – from recruitment and benefits, to retention and advancement – reveals the unconscious bias that a traditional business environment can foster. We are reforming Booking.com’s HR process to actively remove the unconscious bias that can exist in the hiring process as well as providing training for all managers to recognize unconscious bias in the workplace. It is also important that initiatives enable everyone to reach their full potential – such as leadership programs to inspire the next generation of C-suite leaders reflective of the diverse communities we live in, so diverse role models emerge. Inclusivity barriers can also be physical, as we work for disability inclusion our offices and workspaces must be accessible, offer barrier-free movement and assistive technologies. Creating long-lasting cultural change means developing multi-faceted responses to engage, inspire and empower across the workforce.

Empowerment is a feeling, not a number – but too few businesses recognize this and continue to treat equality as an HR policy to be ticked off with transparent initiatives. To succeed means building unique and tailored diversity and inclusion programs which are authentic to an organization and recognize that all employees have a role to play in creating a diverse business world. Now is the time to put the ‘power’ back into empowerment. Only once it has become embedded in an organization’s core values can its effects be quantified. It’s time to do more.

Read this on the WEF website: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/diversity-inclusion-gender-accessibility-workplace-culture