Diversity & Inclusion – Where do we start?

Over the past 12 months I have been asked by a large number of clients for advice on how to develop and implement a Diversity & Inclusion Strategy. 

On each occasion I have posed the following question:

Why do you want your company to be Diverse and Inclusive?

Admittedly, this is quite a provocative question to ask any CEO, but it is a critical one! The reaction has always been one of surprise and astonishment as to why a HR professional is even asking this question. 

Once the initial disbelief has surpassed, I am usually met with responses such as:

“We don’t want to be left behind”

“It is very topical at the moment”

“It will help with our recruitment and retention”

Very rarely am I given a response saying:

Because it is the right thing to do!

Caution: what follows are my own thoughts on D&I, they are not intended to offend, prejudge or exclude in any way. 

If you are still reading then it is my view that the spirit of It is the right thing to do has to be the central spine of any successful D&I strategy.

In developing a strategy, it is crucial that it starts at the top of the organisation with full buy-in from the executive team. It also has to be an ongoing process, visible daily and embedded into the DNA of the company. 

Quick wins do not work! For example, a company may choose to spend a significant amount of money sponsoring a Pride event or a Women in Business conference. On the surface this is great; and to onlookers the organisation is seen as Diverse and Inclusive. However, look ‘under the hood’ and you will likely find employees who do not feel comfortable coming out to their colleagues or a low percentage of female executives. Both of these internal scenarios are at odds with what the organisation is saying publicly. 

So what do I advise clients……firstly that every company itself is unique and diverse. There are a number of great off the shelf initiatives such as family friendly policies etc. however the strategy needs to be right for the organisation. Look inwards at your current population, ask them how they feel. A short survey will help bring to light what D&I truly means in your company. Questions like “Do you feel you can be yourself at work?” will support this. Set up a D&I Committee with an executive sponsor to set the strategy and tone of the organisation. Implement initiatives around this strategy, set benchmarks and metrics to measure success and……dare I say it include it in your performance management system. Task the committee with the goal of “How do we make our organisation more diverse and inclusive?” This will help bring in external talent. 

Furthermore, D&I generally tends to sit within the HR remit. While HR has a very important role in the process, I firmly believe that ownership needs to be held by the leaders of the organisation. D&I is the one strategy that will constantly evolve and adapt as any company matures. The focus needs to remain of upmost importance and given time and commitment from the top. Subsequent employee surveys on the topic should see an upwards trajectory. If this is not the case then something has gone astray – time to assess and refocus! 

Finally, with all of these elements in place and working successfully then your organisation will truly be in a position to shout (internally and externally) that you are Diverse and Inclusive and the benefits will be immense. 

By Steven Drew

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