Vox pop: Do you support the use of targets or quotas to promote diversity?

16 July 2015

Lizi Stewart, services development director, EC Harris

I think that targets are a divisive issue, minority groups can be undermined in a target-type environment, it can be very difficult for the minority groups. But I also think targets are a maturity issue: when your company is clear on the business case and rationale, but you don’t make as much progress as you’d hoped, then targets can become very powerful. But for where we are on our journey now, it would be too much too soon – you’ve got to take the dominant majority with you.

Paul Heather, managing director, Skanska Building London & South East

We’ve set ourselves targets, not quotas. As an organisation, we’ve said it’s always about the best person, but on the other hand you need targets as that’s what changes behaviour. We are big believers in promoting from within, but there can be dangers in that, so the idea is to strengthen the interview pipeline.

We’ve looked into the sector to see where the people we want are, but since that pool isn’t very big, we will also have to look outside the industry. So now we’re asking our supply chain and head-hunters to say we want to see diverse candidates, and we will make sure they are on the shortlist. We’re making diversity an active criterion.

Chrissi McCarthy, managing director, Constructing Equality

I think that question needs to be split in two. If it’s about boards, then I’m totally supportive of targets. But in the workplace more generally, it depends on who is taking care of the quotas and targets, as it can end up that people are appointed to roles without being given the responsibility.

Unfortunately, if the majority of workers in an organisation aren’t feeling happy, and there are targets introduced, then anyone who’s in a minority has their capability doubted. Often, companies are better off using blind CVs [with names redacted] and scoring matrices in interviews, and thinking much more about skills than experience when advertising jobs. It’s not to say targets don’t work, but you need to have people who understand them fully.

Amanda Clack, senior vice president, RICS

I actually don’t really know the answer to that one, although if we have anything, it should be targets, not quotas. Speaking personally, I’d only want to be there on merit, so we’re not mandating anything [under the RICS Quality Mark], we just want people to think about and share best practice.

Ailie MacAdam, managing director for infrastructure, Europe and Africa, Bechtel

I wouldn’t support quotas, but thoughtful targets actually help overcome unconscious bias: it takes targets to change the status quo. If you believe the data on collaboration etc, and you have a male-dominated team, then [in an assessment] you might give an extra point to the person on the shortlist who will be contributing something extra.

However, we haven’t gone that far, but we have made it clear to team leaders that they have a responsibility for improving the diversity and inclusivity of their teams. So that’s what they need to be thinking about.

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