Posted on Tuesday 28 January 2020 by Ulster Business


Ulster Bank brought together business leaders to look at what’s being done to address a lack of diversity and balance in workforces across Northern Ireland, and what benefits having a range of diverse background can have on a company’s success

We all know what workplace diversity is and why it’s important, but it’s getting there, tackling the issues and potential barriers in the way of creating a more diverse environment that remains the challenge for companies.

Diversity and inclusivity was the topic for discussion at a gathering of business leaders and stakeholders at Ulster Bank’s DSE headquarters in the heart of Belfast city centre.

And as for the bank, it’s been at the forefront of tackling areas such as gender and LGBT+ diversity head on, over the last few years.

That includes its RBS-wide Rainbow Network, which helps support LGBT+ colleagues and allies, and creates an inclusive workplace.

At a local level Ulster Bank’s own board in Northern Ireland now has a 50/50 gender split, something which Sandra Wright, senior HR manager, told those gathered, is important to the organisation taking strong proactive steps in addressing diversity in the workplace.

She says that it’s not only the right thing to do, but is proven to help a company’s bottom line and boost business, as well as lower staff turnover rates. And a focus on inclusivity is key to ensuring a happy and productive workforce, with everyone feeling that they are part of the team and that their contribution means something.

“We are now in the next phase of our diversity (plan). When we started off five years ago we were looking at it under a number of pillars which included gender balance, LGBT+ innovative, disability ‘smart’ and the culture change,” she told those gathered.

“We have done so much under those pillars and now are moving to a new form of diversity and looking at the whole culture change.” And she says it is not a quick fix or something which can be done overnight.

Ethnic diversity is something which Northern Ireland continues to struggle with, but it’s something that organisations – including the bank – are actively seeking to address. That includes targeting schools and areas across Northern Ireland which have greater levels of ethnic diversity in a bid to attract them to a variety of potential careers, banking included.

Another is the idea of ‘blind’ shortlists of potential candidates for a job, with surnames, or in some cases, any potential identifiers which could sway a recruiter one way or another, removed.

As discussions continued one anecdote raised a significant issue with unconscious, or perhaps conscious bias, when choosing new staff, based on their names.

In one case a potential interview candidate – after being knocked back on several occasions from a host of jobs she was suitable for – instead applied using her maiden name, which was more anglicised.

As a result, she was offered an interview and got the job. And while just one case, it’s a clear example of the challenges still facing those from different ethnic backgrounds in the UK and Ireland.

Business leaders and stakeholders also heard from Christine White, head of business at Diversity Mark NI.

The organisation has grown its reach considerably in a short space of time – with 80 members from across a wide range of sectors, including Allstate, A&L Goodbody, Deloitte, Belfast Harbour and Outsource Solutions.

While tackling gender diversity in the workplace was the original raison d’etre for Diversity NI, it has since moved focus to other areas, looking at disability and LGBT+ issues.

An emerging area is also now neurodiversity. The idea is that conditions such as autism should be seen not as disabilities, but as normal neurological differences between people.

Christine says it’s also about collaboration and working with a range of stakeholders, individuals and businesses in order to help sell and promote diversity among workforces.

For its own Diversity Mark it uses the expertise of a range of assessors to determine a business’s performance and suitability for the mark.

Dr Joanne Stuart OBE, who is chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, Equality Commissioner Deborah Donnelly and Fergal McFerran of Stonewall have joined the Diversity Mark NI Independent Assessors Panel, bringing a wide swathe of knowledge to assist its members over the coming years.

The organisation is also hosting Northern Ireland’s first Diversity and Inclusion Summit next month, which is being held at Titanic Belfast on February 20.

The half-day summit will also feature a host of speakers and panels to inspire and motivate attendees, focused on building inclusive cultures, and includes keynote speaker Lord Davies of Abersoch CBE.


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