What if diversity is the key to future top performance? A growing number of businesses are convinced of this and are taking action to promote a management policy that includes their employees. The challenge is not only to respect individual differences, but to make these differences a core part of transformation and turn them into a collective asset, a source of innovation and progress. Let’s decipher this promising trend.

When the main French employers' trade-union (MEDEF) released its barometer describing how the nation perceived equal opportunity in 2018, the rate of employees expressing fears of discrimination in the workplace fell below 50% for the very first time. "This is the result of initiatives undertaken for several years by an increasing number of businesses which have made inclusion one of their human resources management priorities. The challenge is to guarantee their employees equal treatment based on their skills and performance, regardless of differences involving origin, gender, age, civil status, political or religious beliefs, sexual orientation, place of residence, state of health, physical appearance, etc." explains Laurent Depond, former Chief Diversity Officer at Orange, who advises a large number of organisations on workplace inclusion issues.

Liberté, égalité, diversity

The phenomenon was sparked a few decades ago by American multinationals in response to growing legal and regulatory measures against all forms of discrimination. It then spread to Europe where it was adapted to local cultures. "There is a specifically French vision of the concept, which focuses very sharply on creating the conditions for equal opportunity, whereas the UK model is based more on the freedom to express singularity" says Laurent Depond. But it’s no longer a mere question of businesses complying with administrative constraints to avoid legal, financial and image risks. "They’ve understood that diversity is a performance factor and a lever for transformation" sums up Laurent Depond. A factor with measurable effectiveness: Sodexo, which is highly active in promoting diversity, conducted an in-house survey of its managerial teams across more than 80 countries. The results showed that teams with a gender mix of between 40 and 60% achieved better business results than others.

Inclusion as a source of creativity

In an era of permanent change, adapting and developing involves attracting a wide range of employee profiles with varied experiences and cultures and making them work efficiently as a team so that involvement and creativity is stimulated when diverse points of view are confronted. On the other hand, an overly standardised environment stifles individual talents... when it doesn’t scare them away. "An employee who feels excluded from the work group will tend to withdraw further, resulting in a loss of information, performance and motivation, or even a desire to eventually leave the company. For instance, it’s no coincidence that in France, according to a study by l'Autre Cercle and Défenseur des Droits (independent administrative organisations) , homosexuals change employers twice as often as heterosexuals” , points out Laurent Depond. It is therefore no surprise to see businesses committing to inclusion.

More or less committed companies

In France, nearly 3,900 organisations have made this commitment a reality by signing the diversity charter. Initiated in 2004, this charter helps organisations implement hands-on action and move forward through innovative practices, encouraging them, for instance, to adopt a reference text laying down the main lines of their diversity policy and measuring/monitoring tools. There are, however, several degrees of maturity in the processes undertaken. "Sometimes they're just cosmetic, with little or no concrete action taken. In other cases, businesses tackle various sources of discrimination, such as disability, while ignoring others like sexual orientation or religion. Some of them adopt a compassionate posture. The most advanced among them promote transformational diversity: inclusion is then made an integral part of their strategy and supported by their managers, including at the highest level " explains Laurent Depond.. What about BNP Paribas Cardif? "It’s among the top of the class, even though it operates in the bancassurance sector, which is traditionally reluctant to value difference. “

BNP Paribas Cardif aims to set an example

"Our company has achieved dual "Diversity and Professional Equality" certification by AFNOR” confirms Catherine Jacquemin, Responsable Diversité et Inclusion BNP Paribas Cardif. These labels commit us to step up our efforts towards equal opportunity and fairness. They're not granted for life. Our best practices are challenged every two years! The diversity policy, launched more than 10 years ago, is both long-term and highly active: "We also reap the benefits of our CEO Renaud Dumora’s personal involvement, as he believes deeply in the virtues of diversity and intends to make our company a world reference in this area ", adds Catherine Jacquemin. To achieve its goal, BNP Paribas Cardif is raising awareness and training its managers with a threefold objective: to make them fully aware of the importance of diversity and inclusion, broaden their knowledge, and encourage all concerned to adopt the right managerial stance.

“Diversity Managers” conferences

For the past two years, a series of "Diversity Managers" conferences has brought together BNP Paribas Cardif managers with internal and external experts to discuss sexist behaviour, sexual orientation, disability, religion, stereotypes and, in the near future, intergenerational collaboration. "Each conference is held during working hours (and not at lunchtime or after 6 p.m.) and attracts an average of 200 managers. They are "sponsored" by a member of the executive committee, and Renaud Dumora is always in attendance from start to finish," explains Catherine.

Training modules dedicated to diversity

To back up the conferences, BNP Paribas Cardif has added a diversity module to the training syllabus for its local managers. "It empowers them to discuss stereotypes, company agreements relating to diversity and appropriate behaviour for an entire morning, and always ends in a lunch dedicated to disability," emphasises Catherine Jacquemin. A second one-hour module has just been developed for senior executives and their management committees.

New approaches and new tools

Building on what’s already been achieved doesn’t only mean anchoring good practices in the corporate culture and adapting them to changes in the laws against discrimination at work. It also means fighting human nature, since we tend to homogenise our environment and thus avoid diversity for fear of others, difference, and the unknown. "We need to try and limit these natural biases in the decision-making process, for instance during recruitment, by setting objective selection criteria and taking collegial decisions, etc. We can also help managers by using new approaches that are based on neurosciences and cognitive sciences," concludes Laurent Depond.

The law on equality and citizenship dated 27 January 2017 obliges all companies with more than 300 employees to train their managers every 5 years in recruitment without discrimination.

Surveys show that 90% to 100% of attendees at BNP Paribas Cardif's "Diversity Managers Conferences" are satisfied.

79% of BNP Paribas Cardif employees believe that their company's management promotes diversity (source: GPS 2019)

That’s it!

"If we want to set an example in our market, we have to tackle all forms of discrimination without exception and give our managers the knowledge and attitudes that make them feel better equipped to work for diversity." Sophie Joyat, Head of Human Resources at BNP Paribas Cardif.