Recent events have starkly highlighted the difference between avoiding overt discrimination and taking an active stance promoting inclusivity. Maddie Wollerton Blanks discusses how to embed a lasting change in diversity and inclusion.
Diverse workforces are not just a nice to have. They build competitive advantage, enable businesses to connect more closely with their clients and support agility and organisational resilience. Having diversity is essential, but engaging and retaining a diverse workforce through an inclusive culture and workplace, where those with different perspectives can thrive, is what makes the difference.
There has been significant research into proving the links between diverse organisations and their bottom-line performance. There is a clear desire from employees and talent pools that steps are taken to meaningfully address issues and pro-actively drive improvements. The case for building diversity and inclusion is not just well made, rather impossible to ignore.
How do we look at diversity and inclusion?
In order to pro-actively create and maintain diversity and inclusion within your culture, it must be approached in the same way as other objectives of strategic importance. You need a baseline, a clear vision and a roadmap to achieve, as well as continual review and monitoring of the outcomes.
Establish a diversity and inclusion baseline
Understanding progress on your diversity and inclusion agenda requires additional insight beyond having your diversity data (although this is an important step). Our approach triangulates diversity data with a review of the policies and procedures that impact how inclusive your culture is and an understanding of the lived experience of these from your people.
Whatever data you are using to create a baseline, ensure the mechanisms to collect it are repeatable and reliable, and that you consider the feedback from your employees as a key part of this. Once collected, use this to create a baseline for where you are today and analyse what the data is telling you about opportunities for improvements and areas of strong inclusion to use as a springboard.
Create a diversity and inclusion vision, strategy and roadmap
As with all strategic objectives, building a clear vision for your inclusion culture is critical to getting alignment, engagement and understanding across your organisation. This should be a collaborative process to ensure senior leadership are the owners of the agenda and your employees and external stakeholders feel a sense of collective responsibility to deliver against these objectives.
Once a vision has been agreed, use your objective baseline to identify the gap between your current position and where you are trying to get to. A prioritisation of these gaps will provide content for your strategy and collaboratively creating initiatives to address these gives a roadmap.
It is important to understand the breadth of possible solutions before starting this exercise. There is much more required to deliver diversity and inclusion in your culture than unconscious bias training. Initiatives can include changes to operating model elements and your employee value proposition.
Implement the changes, listen and monitor the impacts
With a clear vision and strategy established, it is time for initiative owners to implement the changes. Throughout this, it is important to review the impacts, listen to the feedback that is shared and monitor the impact it has on your baseline data.
As with other change programmes, holding individuals to account for activities and results will support in ensuring the desired change happens. Communicating progress against these initiatives is a great way to build engagement across the workforce and access discretionary effort to support with delivery.
It is really difficult to make significant changes to the diversity of your workforce overnight, so looking for changes in the inclusivity of your workplace is a great first indicator that the changes you are making are successful. Data gathered as part of your baseline will allow you to demonstrate it objectively.
Challenges with building diversity and inclusion in your workforce
It is critical that the senior leadership team own the diversity and inclusion agenda as it permeates through everything an organisation does. Whoever owns it must work closely with the HR Director or whoever owns the employee experience, and those responsible for client or customer experience. What we’ve seen to be most effective is where an organisation has a board or senior leadership-level Diversity and Inclusion lead, who can ensure it remains a strategic priority and give a view on other initiatives to ensure this is always considered
Aligning your internal and external strategy
Diversity and inclusion strategies are most effective when an organisation’s employee experience matches its externally facing brand and experience. Where the employee experience doesn’t match the external or client experience, this can build resentment and a lack of trust within your workforce
The role of the manager
As is the case with many elements of a people agenda, the line manager defines the experience an individual has with an organisation. Achieving consistency of understanding, skill, commitment and compliance to processes is critical in delivering the diversity and inclusion experience internally. All the clients that we’ve worked with have invested significantly into this population to achieve their desired changes
No silver bullet
Recent events have highlighted the need for everybody to do more from an inclusion perspective, and employees will expect to see meaningful commitments and action. There is no ‘silver bullet’ when it comes to diversity and inclusion. It is pervasive through all you do as an organisation and, therefore, must be addressed in the same way as other complex strategic challenges to make a real difference.
However, done well, there is a great opportunity to empower your people to engage with you much more fully, which will enable you to connect closely with your customer base, and will attract top talent to your business.