D&I has never been more on the minds of our organisation’s senior leaders. Far from the old days of having to urge action, we’ve moved to a stage where many leaders are not only embracing D&I action, but also getting heavily involved through mentoring, listening to ERGs and employees, and sharing their own stories.
Nonetheless, whilst the desire to take action is there, that doesn’t mean our leaders have the expertise and skills to actually deliver D&I progress. That’s where you come in. This month we’ll explore how you can identify organisational D&I priorities, equip leaders for success and go above and beyond your peers.
Whilst we may consider legal compliance the starting point, it’s often the case that legacy or informal policies, procedures or paperwork may not be up to scratch. Examples may include boilerplate text that gets added to job descriptions or policies as a matter of course, or line managers whose methods are tolerated as the results are good and their current team is happy.
Scratching the surface of any organisation often uncovers well-established behaviours. Part of the D&I journey is to identify and break old un-inclusive practices and procedures to obtain the benefits of an inclusive working environment. And this isn’t an activity that only takes place at the beginning of the journey; it’s a challenge to tackle throughout.
It’s at this early stage that we can establish the organisation’s current situation and challenges. Performing a D&I audit allows us to set a baseline and a starting position as well as identifying initial priorities.
From here we can develop a plan and a set of objectives. It’s also at this stage we can begin to manage the expectations of senior leaders. We find most, if not all, leaders start their own D&I journey considering D&I to be like a project, with a defined start date, a team working on delivery, and a predicted end date.
“In twelve months, we’ll be highly inclusive and a role model for our sector.”
That’s not an unusual sentiment and needs to be challenged early on. By not doing so we find ourselves having difficult conversations at a much later date – closer to the perceived ‘project end date’ and with less enthusiasm for taking action.
Undertaking an audit of any kind may seem like an overwhelming prospect, something most people prefer to avoid, because who knows what it might uncover?
Our approach focuses on establishing a starting point for your agenda, a fresh start, an opportunity to gain traction.
Going above the legal minimum is an indication to your workforce that the organisation is serious about taking action. It’s at this point you begin to take definitive steps towards the short-term objectives you set after your audit.
The actions you take at this initial stage should be completely defined by these measurable objectives. The reasons for this are twofold; hitting clearly set objectives indicates that the organisation is progressing along its plan, maintaining the momentum and interest of leaders. The second reason is to maintain focus on the issues that challenge your organisation. Whilst your contemporaries may be happily rolling out unconscious bias training around their workforce whilst shouting ‘look how much we’re doing’, your organisation may be better off building ERGs and acting on the concerns of underrepresented employee groups.
The actions you take at this early stage establish the tone and importance of D&I in your organisation. ‘Firework’ initiatives that quickly fizzle out after a lot of early noise and activity are a common way of ensuring the employee belief that D&I will go away if you ignore it.
The aim of organisational D&I is to ensure that every employee considers the D&I implications of every decision they take and action they make. It’s to create a culture where every member of an organisation takes ownership of the organisation’s success and its objectives.
The biggest challenge to D&I initiatives isn’t objections but apathy. It’s not a vocal minority that will kill your efforts, it’s the silent majority who ignore them. That’s why we like to see active engagement and advocacy of D&I initiatives from senior leaders, not just at the beginning, but continuously.
Maintaining a level of D&I engagement across your organisation above the legal minimum for any length of time is a challenge in itself. It requires constant reinforcement and reinvention, agilely changing programmes which aren’t working before they reach a stage of failure.
Going even further isn’t something that can be achieved by a D&I team, the HR function or even the senior leadership. It represents a level of buy-in to the importance of D&I that only a handful of organisations are even close to achieving.
It relies on a demonstration of how diversity and inclusion has impacted on organisational success; hard numbers showing the effect on customers or service users, profits or budgets, employee happiness and opportunities.
This takes time. One exceptional month, quarter or year is an anomaly; successive ones become a pattern. Improvement becomes self-sustaining as employees feel free to challenge and innovate. Leaders become enablers, rather than controllers.
So what can you do?
Go back to the beginning. No matter what stage you’re at on your organisational journey, it’s always worth periodically checking policies, paperwork and procedures. This isn’t just about bad habits slipping in and becoming embedded, although shortcuts will always try to undo your hard work. Language is constantly changing, especially in the D&I space, and what was correct can quickly become inappropriate.
Take another look at your objectives. Check that they are SMART and aligned to actual numbers. Make sure you have a clearly defined idea of what D&I success looks like, then share it. Share it with the board, but also on notice boards. D&I isn’t suited to being opaque – making your plans and ideas as transparent as possible not only reduces the opportunity for objections but also encourages people from across the organisation to contribute their own ideas and become involved.
Identify self-sustaining activity. If it’s constantly being driven by D&I practitioners or HR, then your ideas aren’t landing properly. This is where empowering employee resource groups comes into its own; for a small budgetary outlay you end up with a group of usually underrepresented employees who feel empowered, deliver huge amounts of activity, and are embedded in functions and teams in all parts of the organisation.
Our experienced D&I consultants can help you implement a D&I strategy that’s tailored for you, your workforce and the people you need to attract.