The topic of diversity and inclusion (D&I) is top of mind inside and outside of the workplace. In the wake of protests and civil unrest, a movement that was bubbling away at a steady pace has accelerated. More often than ever before, organizations are calling their talent management providers and asking: "How can I practice diversity and inclusion better?"
This is a welcome initiative and I look forward to seeing talent management service providers rise to the challenge. However, those charged with taking on this effort have many options of varying effectiveness. Choosing the wrong interventions for your organization could waste time and resources, potentially making diversity and inclusion worse, not better. If you’ve recently chosen to improve diversity and inclusion, here are some points to consider:
Define Your Goal
Improving diversity and inclusion is a wide remit, and it’s hard to measure success. Rather, organizations need to be clear about the problem they are trying to solve and what success looks like. D&I is more than just making sure selection ratios are fair. D&I success could be achieving greater gender representation in leadership roles within three years. It could be improving the extent to which minority employees feel psychologically safe at work, measured through an engagement platform. It could be creating a more inclusive culture within certain teams. As with all intervention goals, your goal should be specific and measurable.
Understand Your Problems
To my point above, if you’re going to set a realistic and achievable goal, you’re going to need to know what your diversity and inclusion pain points are. Are there particular groups that are under-represented? Or, do you have good diversity, but some groups don’t have voice? Are hiring and promotion rates lower for some groups? Are your leaders ensuring they include all perspectives? A D&I audit can be a good first step in identifying your issues. If your organization is ready to shine a light on the issue and willing to share data, audits help you focus on the facts and figures and current state of affairs from an objective point of view. This information is helpful but would be much more beneficial if supplemented with qualitative data, such as climate surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Knowing where you are starting from can help you identify where to funnel organizational resources as well as provide a reference point for assessing change.
Consider Your Organizational Readiness
D&I interventions can feel very uncomfortable. Not one of us wants to think of ourselves as not being inclusive or appreciative of diversity. And yet, we are all flawed in this area. I am British and went to comprehensive school (a publicly funded school) – I have a fairly deep rooted prejudice against those who went to private (fee paying) schools, because I perceive them to have been born with wealth and, therefore, likely to have attained their professional successful through privilege, not merit. I have no evidence on this, and yet I am aware of the bias kicking in every time I meet someone with this background. We all have biases, we all need to learn not to act on them. Acknowledge that these interventions might be difficult and will help you figure out what your organization can and cannot handle. Make sure that leaders are prepared to have uncomfortable and sensitive discussions around the topic before launching a widespread initiative.
Choose an Intervention That has Real, Long-Lasting Impact
One of the most popular diversity and inclusion interventions is unconscious bias training, with many well-known brands engaging in large-scale programs such as Starbucks and Google. The premise of these programs is, by making us aware of our biases, we can learn to suppress them. But this simply isn’t true. Biases are not inherently negative, they are a survival mechanism. We are bombarded by thousands of pieces of information a day which our brains have to assimilate, evaluate, and because we are still mammals, assess for threat. As a woman, my survival brain is absolutely programmed to become heightened in awareness if a large, tall man is walking towards me, as opposed to small, slight child. We are tribal beings, and we are programmed to perceive threat from those that are unfamiliar to us. We can no more overcome this evolutionary survival mechanism than we can stop children from growing.
There’s nothing wrong with being aware of our biases, but to change behavior, an intervention needs to change the system that allows us to, mistakenly, bring our biases to work and allow them to negatively influence our behavior. A good example of an intervention that can change behavior is blind hiring – removing all demographic information from a CV or application form. If you can’t see it, it can’t influence you. Similarly, awareness days are great at boosting morale and making employees think – but what would be a better is a new protocol for running meetings that ensured everyone has a chance to talk. Raising awareness is not an intervention, it is a signal you intend to carry out an intervention.
Focus on the Basics of Behavioral Change
We know that training is limited as an intervention, with potentially only up to 30% of information being retained from the best training courses, and that’s before you try to evaluate any behavioral change from the training course. As anyone who has ever raised (or studied, or read about, or watched) children will know – humans don’t change behavior when we ask them to, they change when we show them how and set an example.
In this respect, when organizational leaders demonstrate inclusive behavior, employees are likely to follow. Interventions that help leaders understand how their own behaviors are, or are not, creating an inclusive culture are more likely to have an impact on outcomes as compared to a lecture on unconscious biases. If leaders truly understand what they need to do to positively and proactively increase inclusion, it becomes much easier to cascade these behaviors. Starting with leaders can be a strong first step in promoting real organizational change.
Making an organization more diverse and inclusive is a long, multi-faceted journey that will require concerted effort and resources; expending those efforts wisely, efficiently, and effectively is crucial. If you get it right, you can not only contribute to a better, fairer world, you can also give your organization a considerable competitive advantage.