Updated: May 6, 2021
The subject of diversity and inclusion is emotive and can prove problematic within the workplace. Do we want diversity, or should we perhaps look at inclusion?
Should we look at hiring for more diversity or should we look at making processes more inclusive? What about training? What about budget? Who is going to do it?
Do we really need it... after all we treat everyone exactly the same?
Questions abound and these are important questions! The truth is, there is no 'one way' for diversity and inclusion.
It is a two way process, encompassing a host of variables and actions, that will support diversity on its journey to inclusion.
Sadly, many organisations still see either diversity or inclusion but tend not to see the two together, as part of a strategic process. This post helps leaders develop a joined up approach to diversity and inclusion.
Enabling a meaningful conversation
Diversity and inclusion has become a hot topic. Many utilising it as though it was part of their company slogan... 'We value diversity and inclusion'.
However, on closer inspection, and according to several reports around the issue, it appears that we are failing at diversity and inclusion.
Is it a lack of understanding of the issue? Is it a lack of competency to deliver on the agenda? Or is it something else.
Failure to engage fully with all aspects of diversity and subsequent inclusion, will result in some members of the workplace feeling marginalised and excluded from the agenda.
Many organisations have a healthy focus on gender, whilst steering clear from conversations that are associated with more difficult issues, such as racial equality, disability and mental health.
The common refrain of ' they are not doing enough to support us' is heard across many organisations, with leadership seemingly unable to develop strategies to effectively address the concerns of people from these groups.
Conversations around race and disability often prove difficult within the workplace. Often, leadership and employees alike, fail to understand the value of these discussions and how they are applicable to them, on an individual level.
The truth is, that whilst these conversations can prove difficult, they are important because they really matter within the workplace.
It is incumbent on leadership to engage authentically in these debates. It is a starting point of enabling strategies that embed inclusive practice.
It develop effective branding and create a more productive and cohesive workplace environment.
Having the courage to face the uncomfortable conversations, head on, will result in a more informed leadership, that is able to better understand the issues, as they affect company employees.
Talking about race leads to better engagement with diversity and inclusion and gives the organisation a fighting chance at success.
Open, honest and courageous conversations discussion really work to build knowledge and inform strategy around diversity and inclusion.
Are We Really as Engaged as We Think?
Projects and initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion are all around. Many organisations have them. Results, however, can be mixed.
Are we targeting the right objectives, that build out inclusive processes across organisations and how are we engaging with inclusion?
The fact is, diversity and inclusion are both key components of the infrastructure of business. Together, they deliver benefits for employees and stakeholders and improve key business functions and objectives.
In order to engage effectively with D&I, leadership must ensure that projects and initiatives, consider D&I as key outputs within project outcomes.
Whilst it is very often seen as a 'people process', and consign it to the confines of Human Resources, many fail to recognise that it is also applicable within projects that develop products and services.
D&I is an outcome of project management, across all areas of business function. As such, impact assessing diversity and inclusion across project design and implementation is an important activity.
Considering whether projects are failing to meet the needs of diverse groups and / or failing to incorporate key elements of inclusion, is key.
Consider a diversity and inclusion needs analysis to help you define your strategic objectives around diversity and inclusion.
Effective Leadership is the Way Forward
Engagement around diversity and inclusion starts with effective leadership.
Very often, leadership teams take on a 'diversity champion' role. Whilst this is helpful, it doesn't do nearly enough to develop the diversity and inclusion agenda, in a way that promotes real organisational culture change.
Senior diversity champions must ensure that they allocate the time to, and follow specific action to fully support the agenda.
Additionally, leadership often makes the decision that diversity and inclusion is something that should be rolled out at operational levels, and has little value within the top tier of organisational structure.
This is an observation across the leadership of many organisations and is regularly cited as a failing of many leadership teams.
If leadership teams are unwilling to engage with, and promote diversity and inclusion within their own ranks, then it speaks to a lack of commitment to the diversity and inclusion agenda.
Leadership commitment and engagement with diversity and inclusion is paramount. Senior members of organisations, must be fully engaged with diversity and inclusion, if it is to be recognised as a core element of organisational frameworks.
Never has the saying 'lead from the front' been more important. One of the key factors of successful leadership, is the ability to listen and learn from the surrounding environment.
It not only helps to engage better with employees, but also supports a workplace where concerns of staff are easily picked up.
If teams feel unable to discuss concerns around issues of diversity and inclusion, it speaks to the ineffectiveness of leadership.
The C-Suite must develop authenticity around diversity and inclusion, ensuring that it forms part of a well-planned strategy to promote and embed inclusion.
One of the key factors that must be addressed, is the level of accountability around D&I, and how it impacts effective delivery against the agenda.
The organisational vision for inclusion should be marked by an increase in accountability at the top. For too long, organisations have developed diversity and inclusion initiatives, that have little or no accountability from leadership.
Many D&I roles are managed within HR and do not report into the CEO or other senior role. This has meant that diversity and inclusion, is not prioritised, and measurement of key outcomes and data, has not fed into business planning and other strategic agendas.
The result of this is the lacklustre results that we continue to see.
Don't get me wrong. These results are not borne of a lack of budget or available expertise in the marketplace, to lend support to change the status quo. No Sir.
This has largely been a crisis of inaction, or action that only serves to showcase visible diversity. There seems to be an unwillingness to support the need for diversity and inclusion.
Only when the C-Suite is actively committed to, and engages in relevant conversations around diversity and inclusion, will organisations develop the processes to enable effective policy and strategy.
This means that accountability is of paramount importance. No programme to develop D&I will be successful, without clear accountability, across business functions, for getting the job done!
Passion is Rarely Enough
Having a passion for diversity and inclusion is welcome, but passion alone will not support an increase in D&I results.
Whilst being passionate about D&I is helpful, developing skills that support cultural change, leadership development, and an active engagement around issues is paramount.
We see D&I programmes being driven by people who are infused with passion, but fail to bring others along. In other words, they fail to deliver the required results.
Diversity and inclusion is at it's best when it develops equity through inclusion. Passion is relevant here, but competency in a range of defined knowledge and skills ares is paramount.
D&I is part of a strategic agenda, aligned to both the corporate and operational functions of a business. Failure to recognise this, by relying on passion and good will as a primary indicator of competence, is not the best way to embed diversity and inclusion.
An initiative driven by passion, is not the same as one based on concrete objectives that produce purpose driven outcomes. Diversity and inclusion is about developing employees, organisational culture and change management.
Passion helps but it rarely leads the way.
Being committed to diversity and inclusion is about having authentic ownership of the agenda. This, complemented with adequate resourcing the enable initiatives, will ensure that inclusion is given priority within organisational policy, procedure, and actionable objectives.
Resources include budgets, people, and tools that support the diversity and inclusion agenda, and help to add strategic value. There is little point in developing initiatives that are not adequately resourced and not strategically aligned to your business and operational objectives.
There are several ways to ensure that 'diversity and inclusion' is effectively resourced:
1. Establish and maintain a budget for your strategic priorities around D&I
Although this includes events, embedding diversity and inclusion is not just about having events. It is about the translation of important strategic priorities to enable inclusion.
2. Making sure employees are on board.
Very early on in the process, it is important to ensure that leadership communicates effectively with employees so that there is an understanding of why diversity and inclusion is important. Stakeholders in the organisation are one of the biggest resources, but it is important to get the messaging right.
3. Enlist the help of an external partner to look at the organisation objectively.
This is not the same as employing a diversity and inclusion manager who will be internally employed.
An external diversity consultancy can support your business with diagnostic and can look at your business objectively, and provide you with a detailed diversity and inclusion diagnostic, and suggest solutions. A D&I diagnostic is a useful resource to enable inclusion across the business.
A 2018 McKinsey study revealed found that diverse organisations were 35 percent more likely to outperform their less diverse competitors. In organisations where diversity and inclusion is treated as a business priority, diversity amongst employees increases and procedures put in place to enable success.
By adequately resourcing the diversity and inclusion agenda, all employees are able to contribute, add value, and succeed, in line with company objectives, on an equal footing.
If companies truly want to embed diversity and inclusion and secure the business benefits, then equity and inclusion must become a top priority, which is resourced accordingly.
Real input through Lived Experience
A lived experience of difference, across protected characteristics, helps to strengthen the diversity and inclusion agenda. This must be supported by educational and occupational experience of driving change processes.
There is no point in co-opting someone from a protected characteristic to a board, or to a defined D&I role, if they lack experience in driving both quantitative and qualitative change in this area.
A lived experience of diversity inclusion, and exclusion, helps to increase results.
Experience of difference, and an understanding of microaggressions and how they impact the individual and organisational environment. is an important element of learning and development.
Lived experience can be sourced from within the employee base, via diversity networks and resource groups. People with lived experience are able to add value to the agenda and can contribute significantly to the learning and development agenda.