Employee Engagement

6 ways to improve Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace

Evy Fellas

We have witnessed a global awakening the likes of which have never been seen before

It’s been just over two months since George Floyd was killed by a police officer, who knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. His death was not an anomaly, but rather the latest in a disturbingly long list of young Black people killed in incidents of police brutality.

In that time we have seen the biggest global cultural shift in support of the Black Lives Matter movement the world has ever seen.  Companies have posted their support on social media (with mixed feedback) and in some promising cases, we have seen companies commit to taking action towards racial equality in the workplace.

Not only is building a more just and fair society the right thing to do, the business case for better diversity has been made time and again.  But we know that creating a diverse and inclusive organisation is difficult and can be a daunting prospect. We’re offering some best practice steps to help you on your journey.

1. It’s Diversity and Inclusion for a reason: you need to measure both

Yes,  you need to look at how diverse your company is at different levels and in different departments. Having a diversity report that summaries a range of demographics, not just ethnicity and gender, is important. It will help your leaders and managers understand the level of diversity in their teams, and how people of different backgrounds and identities can feel like they belong.

Where you have diversity issues, you’ll need to make a plan for how to attract, engage and retain different kinds of people.  But efforts to improve diversity may be in vain if you don’t simultaneously measure and manage how included people feel.

This is how we define Inclusion: “Everyone can be their authentic selves at work. Each person feels they work in a fair, meritocratic environment with balanced rewards based on each individuals’ contribution with flexibility for personal circumstances.”

It’s everyone feeling they’re treated fairly, rewarded for their efforts, with their personal experiences taken into account. And it means you can’t rely on having an overall high inclusivity score. Our previous article detailed the elements of inclusion you should be measuring – Safety & Access, Trust & Fairness, Belonging and Acceptance and sliced by the characteristics of interest, as a good starting point.

2. Give employees an opportunity to  speak openly and confidentially (hint: not JUST in a focus group)

Once you know the percentage of people who do or don’t feel included, you need to know why – then you’ll have an idea of what needs to change.

The best way to do this is not necessarily just through focus groups, but through asking people to comment freely in a survey.  There are several benefits to this approach, especially when coupled with strong language analysis capability:

  • You can gather information from the whole organisation, not just a select few individuals
  • With language analysis, you can identify the recurring themes for the least included individuals in your organisation
  • You can look at intersectionality in a way that’s very difficult in a focus group
  • People are more likely to speak openly, rather than giving a socially desirable response

3. Don’t spend too long on data gathering and analysis, move to measurable actions quickly

It’s possible to get overwhelmed by data in the analysis phase. Avoid this by pinpointing the main areas of concern, and move to action planning quickly.

Look at your characteristics of interest (race, ethnicity, age, gender and so on) and how these vary by management level in your organisation.  If you don’t have any diversity in your leadership team, this would be a good place to start.  And no, ‘diversity of thought’ is not diversity.  

Look at your inclusivity numbers; who feels the least included, what are they speaking about, and what do they suggest the company does about it?

4. Create an action plan with immediate actions as well as longer term initiatives

When companies were taking part in Blackout Tuesday, posting a black square on social media, the main criticism was that the same companies weren’t taking any tangible actions – don’t be them!  Instead, build an action plan with tangible, measurable actions. Who will own each action? How will you know if you’ve been successful?

Actions should span the whole spectrum of the employee experience – from sourcing and hiring, to career development and opportunities.  If you don’t have any Black candidates applying for roles, it’s unlikely you will be able to hire any more Black candidates with your current sourcing strategy!

And DO NOT rely on your current Black employees to carry the burden of the diversity and  inclusion solution – asking them to do extra work in an already emotionally taxing time is inappropriate to say the least.

5. Look at bias holistically

If you have a brain that works, you have a biased brain. We talk about unconscious bias as if it’s a negative trait – but in reality, biases are just our brains’ way of making shortcuts to understand the world.

To break down the biases we all undoubtedly have, we need to identify what they are and how they impact our day-to-day decisions. But despite what the media says, ‘unconscious bias training’ is not a ‘fix all’ solution.

In order to effect lasting change, companies need to look at both unconscious and conscious biases that exist within their organisations as well as systematic and structural biases.  Unfortunately, structural racism and sexism, as well as many other ‘isms’, still exist today. But by assessing the talent structures you have in place, from multiple perspectives, you can design a desirable future state and create a robust action plan for change.

6. Measure the impact of your actions

This is the step that we typically see companies get wrong.  The typical pitfalls are:

  1. Not clearly defining what success looks like, so being unable to track progress
  2. Defining KPIs that so complex that it’s too difficult to decipher if progress is being made at a desirable rate overall
  3. Forgetting to follow up and measure impact at all

Companies need to define simple, yet impactful, measures to track the overall success of interventions – following up periodically to ensure the actions being taken are resulting in positive outcomes long term.

Diversity & Inclusion Survey

It’s time to start the conversation

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