How do we implement a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy?

Business leaders and executive boards are increasingly understanding and expecting to see the value and benefits that a diverse workforce and inclusive workplace culture can bring their organisation.  These leadership teams understand that diversity and inclusion are not about compliance but about strategy.  They recognise that there is no competitive advantage doing the same thing as everybody else.

Leadership teams who continue to see Diversity and Inclusion as a distraction from the day job and see it as a box ticking exercise, are placing their organisations at a significant competitive disadvantage.  Why?  Because competitive advantage is driven by customer obsession and innovation, which is achieved through diversity of thought, background and experiences.

One of the best analogies used to demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusion, is the role of a Football Club Manager.  If a Football Manager selected 11 goalkeepers and expected to win the championship, the club would most certainly lose.  There would be no competitive advantage in engaging the same types of players.

But when a Football Manager engages talent scouts to help find the best players for the club, their competitive advantage increases.  The focus of any club, like any organisation, is to find the best talent that will help win championships.  These scouts don’t ask hundreds of questions about heritage, which schools or universities people attended.  What’s important is whether people have the talent to win games.  Organisations like Football Clubs who have diverse and balanced teams win championships and prevail.

What does diversity and inclusion mean?

Diversity is a broad concept, including everything from gender, age, and ethnicity, to religion, cultural background, sexual orientation, race, language, education, ability and more.  It means understanding that each individual is unique and recognises these individual differences.

Inclusion means that all people, irrespective of their diversity, are embraced and respected.  Creating truly inclusive workplaces requires organisations to ensure they adopt inclusive hiring and management practices, and that opportunities available are open to all.  It also requires a culture of respect, tolerance, and understanding among employees, which often means challenging deep-set biases that come from outside the workplace and which can be perpetuated by media, family, or society in general.

We want to be a more diverse employer. Where do we start?

Every organisation faces unique diversity and inclusion challenges in the context of its business strategy. Therefore, consideration must be given to the business strategy, the specific diversity and inclusion objectives wishing to be implemented and achieved and the maturity of any diversity and inclusion initiatives already in place.

But for diversity and inclusion to have any chance of success, it must be championed by the senior leadership team who must be active in bringing it up in the organisational dialogue.

Where do we start?

Define the organisational diversity and inclusion success criteria.

Before implementing any D&I initiatives or metrics, the organisation must start by taking a step back and asking itself the following questions:

  • What do we want to achieve with our D&I initiatives?
  • How will we know when we have reached your objectives?
  • What data points (quantitative and qualitative) will support the above?
  • What do we already know?
  • Where are our ‘pressure points’ or areas of concern within our organisation?
  • What additional insights are required?

Undertake a full Diversity and Inclusion Audit

A D&I audit includes:

  • Collecting demographic data through traditional HR tools and analysing for instance:
    • the percentage of underrepresented groups (for example people of colour and women)
    • the representation of diverse individuals in senior-level management positions or the board of directors
    • the compensation for employees and identifying if there are salary gaps based on employees’ race or gender.
  • Surveying employees regarding diversity & inclusion topics
  • Analysing HR & survey data for trends
  • Identifying areas of concern

“Employers must first know what their workforce looks like compared with the labour market. By capturing data on employee demographics, an employer is better able to understand the diversity of its employees and identify any areas of concern or trends.” (Torin Ellis, Diversity strategist).

Share the findings of the Diversity and Inclusion Audit

Part of the strategy for managing diversity includes being transparent. The next step after a diversity audit is to release a diversity report with findings from the audit to the organisation. A diversity report includes aspects such as data on the number of women and people of colour employed company-wide, including leadership roles.

Communicating the findings from the audit is often considered a risk, because it’s believed that it opens the organisation up to scrutiny, highlighting areas where there are failures or increasing the chances of being called out for discriminatory practices or attitudes.

But diversity and inclusion is a topic that is too important to ignore and organisations cannot afford to remain silent about it any longer.  Those who do, do so at their peril.

People vary in how they understand messages.  Therefore prior to releasing the findings of the D&I audit, organisations should identify the different stakeholders impacted by the findings and design messages that inform, educate, engage and empower as appropriate.

Compile Diversity and Inclusion Targets and Goals

Following the completion of the D&I audit and having reviewed the data, the organisation needs to compile and commit to realistic diversity goals.  Without clear and robust measures to track diversity and inclusion efforts and outcomes, there will be a tendency to revert to habitual and ingrained thinking and behavioural patterns.

Metrics help organisations who are committed to diversity and inclusion stay on track by encouraging the identification and management of bias blind spots, mindsets and practices, which are often hidden.

Establish a Diversity and Inclusion Employee Council

Once goals and targets are set, a diversity council can work with senior management to keep diversity efforts on track. Bringing together a group of people who champion diversity within an organisation is another step towards implementing a diversity and inclusion strategy and keeps the organisation accountable for its diversity goals.

Review recruitment strategies and practices

Thinking about the Football Club analogy, competitive advantage is achieved by attracting and retaining the best talent.  To achieve this, organisations need to establish a diverse recruitment strategy which should ensure that selection and hiring processes and decisions are free from bias for any individual or group of candidates.

The recruitment strategy should include aspects such as routinely auditing job advertisements to ensure they are inclusive, compiling inclusive job descriptions which appeal to diverse candidates, widening the talent search to include diverse groups and talent pools, designing an inclusive application process, ensuring short listing of candidates is fair, allowing reasonable adjustments at interview stage and ensuring interview processes and panels are inclusive.

 Review progress and continue to make changes as required

Once a diversity and inclusion strategy has been implemented, ongoing monitoring is necessary because diversity and inclusion is an ever-changing space. To do this organisations should:

  • Compare diversity data before and after implementing the D&I strategy
  • Measure the results of their diversity goals and targets
  • Keep their Diversity Councils active
  • Be aware of and look for new Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) representing different and specific groups from diverse communities, when recruiting.
  • Senior leaders must incorporate diversity and inclusion in their dialogue and across all levels of the organisation.

At a time when the world has undergone so much disruption and leaders are focused on stabilising and growing their business, it can be easy for leadership teams to believe that diversity and inclusion are a distraction from other pressing strategic issues.

But failure to act can be damaging to the organisation’s reputation, not to mention weakening shareholder and stakeholder confidence.  As Sir John Parker wrote in the Parker Review February 2020, “This is not just a matter of social justice. Many of those who invest in us and trust us, are now monitoring our performance, because they see it as a sign of whether we are truly ready to face up to the challenge of the modern world”.