Creating a diverse and inclusive workforce are long-held and well-established objectives for most organisations. However, it’s fair to say that we are now experiencing a real shift in attitudes; a recognition from businesses that cultivating a diverse workplace is more than simply the ‘right’ thing to do, but a real driver for business success.

Diversity to inspire innovation

A workforce with a mix of ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, genders and physical abilities means a range of experiences are brought to the table. This variety of viewpoints delivers a number of advantages, including helping to avoid groupthink and inspire innovation. Business critical areas such as creative tasks, product innovation, problem-solving and improved decision making, all profit from the talents of a diverse team.

In addition, cultivating a diverse workforce can directly impact your business’s bottom-line. Research from McKinsey uncovered companies with a diverse mix of employees are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors and have financial returns above the national industry average.

By using work experience to improve the acquisition of talent from the outset, we can more effectively diversify workforces and ultimately, feel the benefits of increased economic success for UK businesses.

Avoid a ‘who-you-know’ culture

For students from underrepresented groups, there are often multiple barriers before they even arrive at the front-door of a company. In fact, research from the National Centre for Universities and Business reveals organisations are still citing word-of-mouth as a key channel for sourcing work experience candidates.

Work placements are a vital ingredient to developing work-ready graduates but where does word-of-mouth leave students based in remote areas, outside of exclusive networks, or those without family connections?

In the quest for diversity, students, universities and businesses are being under-served by the current work experience market. To really unlock the opportunities available for young people and diversify talent from the start, businesses need to formalise work experience processes.

The app and platform Placer supports this structure by advertising placements publicly which benefits employers by helping to ensure young people are recruited on their potential, not on their connections. The matchmaking technology helps to reduce unconscious bias and connects organisations with a diverse pool of talent

An inclusive work experience programme means companies can create lasting relationships to help fill the next generation of entry-level jobs. Doing so helps level the playing field allowing organisations of all types and sizes to find the talent they may have otherwise overlooked.

Open access to diverse millennial talent

Of course, recruiting diverse work experience talent also benefits young people, enabling a wide range of students to develop essential workplace skills. Work experience exposes undergraduates to a workplace culture and shapes skills such as communication, self-motivation and timekeeping – helping them overcome some of the hurdles to employment.

It’s encouraging for us to have conversations with more and more businesses on how work experience can aid diversity. And not just because it is expected of them to offer opportunities to all, but because they really see the business benefits of having a range of varied voices around the table.

There’s always more work to do, however to improve awareness and turn it into action, when there remains young people in our society who are still facing barriers to the workplace. Research from Deloitte found students from the least advantaged backgrounds earn 10% less than their peers, and a recent government report revealed employment rates across the UK are still notably higher for white people than for ethnic minorities.

While many businesses are recognising that talking about diversity is not enough, all employers need to act swiftly to implement work experience programmes that attract and retain a diverse talent from the outset, or risk falling behind.

David Docherty is Chairman of Placer and CEO of the National Centre for Universities and Business.