Covid-19 has made HR practitioners pay greater attention to Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) efforts. One of the main reasons for this is that remote work has made achieving inclusion more challenging than ever before.
However, whatever the circumstances, companies, even those with the best intentions, often end up neglecting at least one of the elements in this equation. For instance, they might focus on diversity without implementing effective methods of engendering inclusion. Many also do not fully harness D&I. This results in such efforts having little or no impact on the bottom line.
Let’s first acknowledge the importance of D&I and examine the merits of diversity as a start.
A growing body of research shows that diversity (in terms of various characteristics such as gender, race, religion, thinking/learning styles, etc.) results in increased profitability and creativity, stronger governance and better problem-solving abilities. A 2018 Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19 per cent higher revenues due to innovation.
Of course, researchers emphasise that diversity should be present across all levels, not just within management ranks.
It’s no secret that when it comes to business decisions, each employee has the potential to bring to bear his or her own perspectives, ideas and experiences based on his or her background. These can be powerful in creating tailored solutions for a diverse clientele.
This has become even more crucial today with the increased adoption of technology such as AI. As organisations adopt technology to streamline customer interactions, algorithms must be designed to, without bias, deliver bespoke solutions for diverse customers. To do this well, organisations’ workforces, especially teams that design and execute such projects, need to be able to empathise with customers. Teams that mirror a company’s clientele are more likely to do this successfully.
Also bear in mind that your workforce is increasingly going to be made up of talented professionals who demand diversity. Deloitte’s Millennial Survey points out that by 2025, 75 per cent of the global workforce will constitute millennials of whom, according to this survey, 47 per cent are actively looking for diversity when assessing potential employers.
Millennials tend to value diversity even beyond fundamental markers such as race, religion, gender and age. Many see diversity as a melding of varied life experiences and individual perspectives. Diverse workforces should therefore include people with different political beliefs, educational backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientations and disabilities, among other things.
DIVERSITY IS USELESS WITHOUT INCLUSION
But diversity without inclusion is of no value.
Aside from the fact that inclusion is simply the right thing to do under any circumstances, studies show it’s better for the bottom line. A Deloitte LLP study found that inclusive organisations are eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and two times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets.
HR leaders recognise that in a remote work setting and at a time when employees are experiencing job and income insecurities, organisations need to go the extra mile when it comes to inclusion – ensuring effective collaboration, creating a sense of belonging and achieving alignment.
All employees need to have a voice and feel respected. Success lies in how an organisation engages, values and supports its people, creating an atmosphere that encourages each person to reach their full potential.
However, many end up negating D&I efforts by either neglecting inclusion altogether or simply executing it badly.
In a recent Harvard Business Review op-ed, Robin J. Ely, the Diane Doerge Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the faculty chair of the HBS Gender Initiative, and David A. Thomas, President of Morehouse College and the H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School emphasise that for diversity to yield positive results, companies need to be able to tap individuals’ “identity-related knowledge and experiences as resources for learning how the organisation could perform its core work better.”
“Increasing diversity does not, by itself, increase effectiveness; what matters is how an organisation harnesses diversity…” they say.
How can organisations do this effectively?
For one thing, organisations have to understand that “being genuinely valued and respected involves more than just feeling included. It involves having the power to help set the agenda, influence what—and how—work is done, have one’s needs and interests taken into account, and have one’s contributions recognised and rewarded with further opportunities to contribute and advance.”
They recommend four key actions.
Firstly, they urge leaders to build trust by creating an environment “where people feel safe expressing themselves freely.” This calls for “setting a tone of honest discourse and getting comfortable with vulnerability—one’s own and others’.”
Secondly, they encourage “taking concrete measures to combat forms of discrimination and subordination that inhibit employees’ ability to thrive.” However, they recommend going beyond initiatives such as affinity groups, mentoring programmes, work-family accommodation policies, and unconscious-bias training.
Instead, leaders, as stewards of an organisation’s culture, “must undergo the same shifts of heart, mind, and behaviour that they want for the organisation as a whole and then translate those personal shifts into real, lasting change in their companies” in order to dismantle systems of discrimination and subordination. This means leaders need to educate themselves on how privilege and oppression operate in society and within the wider organisational culture, and use “their personal experience to spur collective learning and systemic change.”
The third action is to actively “embrace a wide range of styles and voices”, but before they can do this effectively, they have to understand how certain norms within the organisation might “implicitly discourage certain behavioural styles or silence certain voices.”
The fourth action involves making “cultural differences a resource for learning.” They must encourage not only “open discussions about how identity groups shape employees’ experiences inside and outside the organisation”, but also learn from them.
STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TODAY
If you’re looking to increase the effectiveness of your company’s D&I efforts, we recommend these steps to get you started:
1. Know what your workforce looks like compared to the wider labour market and ensure people from various groups are represented in your organisation
Here are some data points to consider:
- Race/Ethnicity/Religion/Spiritual Beliefs
- Family Status
- Gender Identity or Expression
- Sexual Orientation
- Life experiences
- Professional Function and Level
- Personality type
- Thinking/learning styles.
2. Learn what the current organisational culture is in regard to D&I, identify areas of concern and deal with them
Ask employees about their perceptions. Does the company take D&I seriously enough? Are current efforts working? What additional initiatives would they like to see?
Once you have this information, combine it with the gaps identified from your research in step #1. Then drill down to where the problem areas are within your organisation – which locations, departments, positions, etc. Is management full of males of a certain race? Are women making less than their male counterparts in the same roles?
Investigate the reasons for the problems and put initiatives in place to address them.
3. Address policies that stand in the way of D&I
Are there barriers to D&I that should be eliminated or adjusted?
For example, employee referral programmes could often result in a lack of diversity as employees are likely to recommend people who are similar to them. Companies should consider limiting employee referrals.
4. Identify business objectives
Identify how a diverse workforce and inclusive culture can help the organisation achieve its business goals. For instance, as your clientele becomes more diverse, having a diverse workforce could make a substantive impact on designing products and services for customers.
5. Get buy-in, train staff, practise inclusion
Senior management must fully comprehend the business case for D&I programmes while recognising that it is simply the right thing to do. They must be trained to truly practise D&I.
Managers must be tasked with keeping D&I programmes alive by achieving alignment, continuing dialogue with staff, training team members, and holding direct reports accountable for fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace on a daily basis.
6. Constantly engage staff, communicate the initiatives and their outcomes
Recognise that people – employees, managers, investors – receive messages differently. Identify various groups of stakeholders and tailor messages for each group in order to inform, engage and empower them.
Use various methods of communication all year round in order to keep the spirit of D&I alive. The communication plan could include dialogue sessions, executive presentations, newsletters, e-mail and social media. Use a variety of methods including infographics and videos that tell personal stories of how D&I initiatives have changed lives or resulted in positive business outcomes.
It is also imperative to measure the results of the D&I initiatives. Key outcomes could include increased representation of identified groups and improved employee perception scores. Other measurements, such as improved talent retention, financial results and public recognition of D&I efforts are also important.
7. Constantly review and adjust
Society is not static, so your D&I initiatives have to evolve in tandem. An ongoing review of the workforce and a response to changing needs are absolutely necessary. Put in place procedures for a periodic review. This would mean starting from step #1 all over again.
Today, D&I specialists are in great demand. They arm companies with a deeper sense of community internally as well as externally, enabling them to thrive in an unpredictable business environment.
We have found that in Asia, such specialists are scarce, hence companies are currently looking overseas.
Asian professionals would do well to study D&I and hone their expertise in this area. It’s a field that is likely to remain relevant for a long time to come.
If you’re in search of D&I experts for your organisation, get in touch with us.