Why are businesses so slow to embrace D&I?

The case for inclusion is established, but organisations still struggle to tackle the issue meaningfully. Claire England has some tips for cultural change

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a complex topic which business leaders across all sectors can find challenging. Navigating the correct use of language and terminology, supporting all employees in the right way and ensuring the business as a whole is aligned on the topic can be difficult. However, many industries are looking to accelerate the pace of change and see D&I as a business priority, so adopting new ways of working and nurturing a diverse and inclusive culture is more important than ever.

But why are more businesses not embracing this change? One of the major obstacles is that inclusion and staff engagement initiatives still do not make commercial sense to a lot of them, despite a diverse, open and supportive work culture having been proven to be more dynamic and inspire greater innovation. A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that "increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance”, with up to 19 per cent higher revenue recorded in some cases. However, if a business is already performing well, its leaders often have no commercial incentive to invest in D&I policies.

In addition, reinventing company culture and changing employees’ attitudes and mindsets at work cannot be achieved overnight. These initiatives require significant time and investment to get off the ground and embed into company culture. It is also a sensitive and emotive topic that many people would rather avoid, and it often gets placed in the ‘too difficult’ box. However, where there is desire for change, there are simple yet effective first steps that can help put D&I plans in motion. 

D&I can be interpreted in a number of ways, so clarification from the outset is crucial. More often than not, businesses fail to communicate to staff what D&I actually means, why it matters and how they are addressing it. In many cases, staff have no idea about their employers’ wider commitment to these issues. 

It is also essential that D&I initiatives come from the top of the business. There needs to be a strong and consistent message from the leadership on its commitment to D&I. Without this, the message can become confused and may lose momentum. Heads of businesses having a strong voice on these issues in turn empowers people throughout the business to support one another and embody these messages, which has the potential to transform company culture for the better. HR teams must also hold leaders to account to deliver on D&I objectives; without accountability, these initiatives can fall by the wayside. 

Reviewing and adapting HR processes to make sure they encourage fairness and a level playing field is also an important first step on this journey. How companies manage and recruit staff has been proven to stifle diversity throughout a business, in turn inhibiting innovation and progression. To attract the best and most diverse talent, excluding names and ages off CVs and scrapping education benchmark criteria are just a few ways businesses can ensure their recruitment processes are unbiased. It is also important to make the most of exit interviews. Understanding whether staff felt fully supported and encouraged during their time with an employer is a powerful educational process. Insight from these conversations uncovers invaluable information and first-hand experiences businesses can use to inform further inclusion initiatives and ensure staff in the future feel fully supported.

Ultimately, for D&I strategies to succeed, they need to be allocated the same level of importance as commercial initiatives and supported by the executive team. Businesses need to make strong commitments to improving the diversity of their workplace and continue to communicate these to their staff. If implemented properly, a clearly articulated D&I strategy has the potential to totally transform company culture and make everyone across the business feel included and supported. 

Claire England is director of diversity & inclusion at JLL