HR conference highlights business benefits of inclusive and flexible workplaces

Aug 2, 2019

The conference was hosted by Business South’s Workforce South action group on Thursday 16th May at the Best Western Chilworth Manor Hotel. It drew together HR professionals, CEOs and business leaders from across the South to discuss how smart working and workplace diversity could help them recruit and retain employees.

The cost of inflexible workplaces was a key take-home message. Ursula Taverner, consultant and founder of ‘Mumbelievable’ blog, revealed that over 54,000 women are lost from the talent pool every year due to incompatible work demands and childcare responsibilities. To retain this talent, she stressed that businesses need to create more flexible working opportunities to help both working parents and the wider workforce.  

Several speakers echoed the benefits of equality and inclusivity. Claire Williams, Director of Inclusion and Diversity at Inclusive Employers, revealed that gender-neutral companies are 15% more likely to outperform competitors, with that figure rising to 35% when the workplace is ethnically diverse. Claire stressed that businesses need to work to reduce bias in their hiring practices and maintain workplaces that welcome those of all backgrounds. Otherwise, much talent remains untapped.

Dr Zara Nanu, CEO of pay gap consultants Gapsquare, urged conference attendees to take an active approach to tackling gender pay gaps in their organisations. All businesses should regularly review HR and payroll data together to ensure they had a complete picture and could take appropriate action.

The message of the conference was summed up by Anthony Fitzpatrick, Employee Relations & Global Employment Policy Lead at Aviva, who shared how inclusive and flexible working practices have boosted employee engagement and the business’ external reputation. Stressing that ‘inclusivity’ is a culture not a policy, he outlined two specific areas through which Aviva had improved: equal parental leave rights and smart working policies have empowered both managers and employees. These initiatives encourage staff to ask themselves, ‘how does my role express our company values’ and the board supports them when they call out where those values are not being lived.

Mark Smith, CEO of The Southern Coop, reminded delegates that the way in which businesses treat their staff relates very closely to social concerns. The role of flexible and inclusive practices is crucial in supporting the responsible business and leadership agenda and can substantiate progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“Our annual Workforce South conference isn’t the only way to discuss best practice with other HR professionals,” Shirley Anderson said, “All Business South members – known as ‘Champions’ – are given the opportunity to join Workforce South and other action groups to collaborate and to promote business in the South. If you are interested in finding out more, get in touch.”

Find out more about becoming a Business South Champion and the Workforce South Action Group by visiting