More and more businesses are beginning to recognise that embracing diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace is no longer merely a morale pursuit – recent research has revealed a direct link between diverse organisations and improvements in employee engagement, market share, innovation and revenue generation. In other words, D&I has a direct impact on the bottom line.
As a result, companies across the globe are springing into action: major firms are openly discussing the subject, posting internal diversity stats and setting admirable benchmarks for hiring and mobility ratios. Of course, this type of discourse and awareness should be encouraged and applauded, but it’s important to remember that they’re only first steps down the long path to real and meaningful change.
D&I is, at its best, a tricky issue to tackle. Because of the highly-subjective, often invisible nature of unconscious biases and discriminatory practices, it’s exceedingly difficult for organisations to actively address them, much less craft a coherent strategy to neutralise their negative effects.
There are a number of common problems that organisations must face when attempting to build a D&I strategy:
D&I being viewed as a compliance issue – this typically results in a disconnected, low-impact response
D&I being viewed as a gender-related issue – the focus is on leveling out gender ratios rather than addressing root causes of the imbalance (which impact many other workforce segments as well)
Employees may misunderstand the concept itself – steps must be taken to broaden their perspectives and the role they must play in building a diverse and inclusive culture
Lack of leadership commitment and accountability – some leaders will be engaged and invested, others will need some convincing. Even more will likely fail to convert their good intent into meaningful actions
Unconscious bias – many fail to realise their own biases, which in turn creates subtle obstacles to equitable career progression (both structural and cultural) that go unaddressed
Over-reliance on equality policies and programmes – written policies are often seen as the whole solution, but this will only deliver limited improvements in D&I unless the mind-sets of leaders and managers who apply policies and processes is also changed
With all the confusion surrounding D&I, many struggle when it comes to initiating real change. But with a clear framework in place from the outset, senior stakeholder support and measurable objectives and results, it’s possible for ALL D&I focussed business professionals to begin turning the tides and making a significant impact on their organisation’s culture and business outcomes.
Building Your D&I Strategy
Phase 1: Diagnosis
First things first – you need to assess your current situation. This means evaluating your existing data, decision making processes and policies. Which areas are currently working for well? Which could need improvement? In addition to helping you craft a comprehensive and impactful strategy, an initial audit provides a baseline from which to measure your progress – something that will undoubtedly prove useful when attempting to make the case for increasing D&I investment in the future.
Phase 2: Objectives
If you set out on a journey without a final destination, chances are you’ll simply start going around in circles. Start with a solid endpoint in mind, then establish a realistic and measurable set of D&I KPIs and benchmarks to help you get there. Identify all the relevant metrics for success and the necessary technologies and data-gathering systems to help keep the ship pointed in the right direction. Although the path to true equality in the workplace can often be a long and unwieldy one, with the proper mindset, tools and perhaps a little bit of guidance, it’s certainly an achievable aim.
Phase 3: Implementation
When it comes to D&I, there’s no such thing as a set-it-and-forget-it approach. Once you implement your new strategy, you must constantly assess and tweak processes to ensure they remain impactful and aligned with the constantly evolving interests of your organisation. Perhaps even more importantly, you must take proactive measures to educate both the general team and leadership about the measures being taken, and the importance of D&I in the workplace in general. At the end of the day, the only way your strategy is going to make an impact is if you can get your entire team on board.
Technology Can Help
Ultimately, the goal of any D&I strategy is to create a stronger, more successful company. Though this goal is multi-faceted (cutting recruitment costs, reducing turnover, boosting revenue, improving morale, etc.), it’s important to recognise that these issues are all directly related. By utilising technology to facilitate a smarter, more systematic approach to hiring and internal mobility decisions, organisations can address potential problems of bias and discrimination at the root, while simultaneously finding the best fit for every opening in the most time and cost effective manner possible. At the end of the day, adopting a strategic approach to diversity and inclusion requires a great deal of dedication and hard work, but the return on your investment – both morally and financially – will make it more than worth your while.