A strategic approach to building a diverse workforce

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Equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) are critical to enhancing the diversity of thought and experience to enable teams to reach better decisions and promote innovation.

At the recent people agenda forum on future skills, Head of Inclusion and Diversity at Grant Thornton, Jenn Barnett, talked about how developing a strategic approach to your workforce can attract a broad range of talent to your business. Here, Jenn shares how you can use our strategy to build a diverse workforce successfully.

‘‘The benefit of investment in I&D is not only a moral choice, it plays a critical role in enhancing the diversity of thought and experience in your teams. It is vital for innovation, client affinity and new ways of doing business to access and enable the thinking of a diverse range of talented people’’.

Jenn Barnett, Head of I&D at Grant Thornton


What does a diverse talent strategy look like?

Inclusion and diversity are embedded in everything we do, yet as a business, we still face complex challenges. Accessing and attracting diverse talent from different backgrounds, genders, and cultural heritages continues to be a priority and a challenge for us.

Our strategy for achieving a diverse range of talent is intersectional, and we’ve found that focusing on these three pillars helps us, and could help you, to attract diverse talent.

Improving the lived experience for all

Investing in improving the lived experience for all - through powerful networks, education, mentoring and allyship, supports people to feel valued, heard and respected. Understanding the barriers that exist and putting in place effective support requires significant investment, but ultimately enables a culture of learning, growth and diverse thinking.

Changing the culture

At the same time, focus on changing the culture through creating board accountability and using a data-driven approach to track key indicators and areas that require focus, in terms of workforce demographics and how included people feel.

Enable your culture to facilitate inclusion by storytelling, having powerful role models, creating expressive senior allyship, and facilitating psychological safety for everyone to speak up and express their views.

Changing the system

As an approach to inclusion becomes more mature, business leaders can start to focus on changing the system to improve belonging by focusing on sponsorship and retention processes and removing bias from work allocation.


Where should you focus your efforts?


Build a communication campaign based on the real lives of your own diverse people, unearthing their backgrounds and lives, to demonstrate to others that your organisation is a flexible one that celebrates differences and embraces different perspectives.

These stories should include different experiences such as part-time working parents, people with caring responsibilities, people with different cultural heritages, neurodiversity, our LGBTQIA+ colleagues and socio-economic backgrounds.


  • Assess your job advert language for bias and think about flexibility and working patterns that support diverse talent, including job share and returner options. If these are clearly stated on job adverts and application forms, it will attract a diverse range of talent.
  • Add sample interview questions to your careers site so that everyone has time to plan in advance, and perform at their best during the interview. Ensure your job adverts are transparent. For example, we share our family policies on the careers site for candidates to consider prior to applying.
  • Consider establishing a trainee recruitment programme targeting lower socio-economic (SE) schools and universities. We have over 200 students attend work experience programmes targeted at lower SE students so that our profession is accessible to all. It also means we can recruit for potential rather than background.
  • Forming a returner programme can attract and support talent who may have taken a career break, perhaps due to caring commitments.
  • Enable your candidates to be their true selves at all stages of the process by sharing your gender-neutral policy and encouraging them to choose a relevant gender, pronoun and title during their application.


Create diverse interview panels and hold annual interviewer training for recruiters and hiring managers, covering bias and inclusive decision-making. Add specific inclusion questions to all interviews and implement a positive action interview scheme for disabled candidates, with a reasonable adjustments policy applied across all recruitment processes.

Consider other ways you could change your processes to encourage diverse thinking. For example, we recently removed the “current salary” question from all stages of the job interview and application process to prevent perpetual salary bias.


Retaining your diverse talent

Our three pillar strategy has led to continued success in attracting and hiring diverse talent across our firm. In terms of experienced hire external starters in 2023, we are proud to say that:

  • Overall, female/non-binary starters hit 51%, the highest since we started recording
  • Ethnic minority starters were at 46%
  • Black starters reached 15%
  • Starters with a declared disability or condition reached 11%

Attraction is important and the starting point for most organisations that are serious about investing in changing their ED&I agenda. However, attraction can only be successful if retention is equally prioritised.

Retention is complex and requires many levers to be both understood and managed. The importance of understanding your workforce and providing the right support to enable diverse talent and skills to develop and thrive cannot be underestimated. We’ve seen retention success in enabling innovative ideas, such as changes in support and understanding around career progression and flexible working arrangements.


Championing future diversity

By putting inclusion at the top of your strategic agenda, you can transform your culture and improve attraction and retention. There is also an opportunity in the future to enable your people to take risks and pivot into new in-demand skills such as AI, digital and sustainability.

We support our people with this using strategic secondments. This not only helps our people but also supports the objective of helping the business be more resilient to risk and adapt to the needs of the future.

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