A few months ago, I was asked about the best approach for a business to take when building and growing a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. A quote I keep in my mind daily is ‘jumping to conclusion leaves no space for inclusion’ – it reminds me that inclusion is the hardest task to master when working with diverse people but brings tremendous potential and rewards, including an engaged workforce, increased innovation, better performance and wellbeing.
Each organisation has a unique breakdown of values, demographics and approaches. Most organisations are diverse if you look beyond visible characteristics such as skin colour, disability or gender. When you open conversations on neurodiversity and linguistic and cognitive diversity to lived experiences, a safe environment is created for people to engage.
Labelling and putting humans into boxes creates more division. Yes, there are protected characteristics and groups that require our conscious effort to make changes and create fair opportunities. A successful strategy has leadership and is supported by everyone in the business. Here is my advice on how to get the most impact with your diversity strategy:
Light the torch at the top and the people will follow the light
We look to our leaders for guidance and direction. Leading by example sets the tone for the rest of the organisation. A leadership team that actively demonstrates inclusive behaviour and models attitudes drives a strong culture that embraces diversity and inclusion.
We shouldn’t rely on HR to deliver a full strategy. While HR can provide a strong vehicle for policy changes, recruitment strategies and training, we need to empower and engage the wider workforce to have an impact. In my experience, employee-led initiatives that form organically as affinity groups or employee resource groups have a bigger impact. People feel more empowered to be part of the journey. There is no right or wrong way of doing it, as long as you are doing something.
Inclusion and diversity is not a tick-box exercise
The temptation of having an all-encompassing strategy that covers a wide range of groups is tempting for many organisations starting out. The reality is that this approach can quickly crash with zero engagement. Before you start planning and building your strategy, gather some data to understand the demographics of your workforce. Who do you represent? What are your largest groups? Gender, age and race are the groups with most readily available data. This is all visible data that can drive your initial ideas and engage people. Involve your workforce from the start. It’s important to communicate and create a safe space for open conversations – and to spot your open champions. Sharing individual stories will encourage people to come forward and become champions for underrepresented groups. Be sure to reward and recognise people who step forward and lead the way.
An engaged workforce with HR support creates impact
As with every initiative, you need buy-in from the top down. To engage each level throughout your business you need a clear understanding of the benefits for each individual. People have different values and needs they buy into.
We need to switch the narrative. We have all the research and data to show the strong benefits of diversity. It was all about the business performance and the benefits diversity brings to the organisation. But what about the benefits to the people? Why do I want to be part of my organisation’s strategy? We can make it beneficial for our employees in several ways:
- Tap into people’s desires for their personal and professional growth
- Create a culture of belonging instead of fitting in
- Introduce new creative ways to attract different people to engage
- Create a safe space for difficult conversations and a respectful exchange of views
- Remember one-to-one conversation about inclusion and diversity may seem small but is extremely powerful
An organisation’s impact on diversity, equity and inclusion lies within its leaders’ and employees’ everyday actions. What matters most are the actions we do when no one is watching. Consistent everyday actions will ripple throughout the organisation and effect the change that we desire.
Adriana Morvaiova is team development co-ordinator at Sensata Technologies and chair of D&I Council NI. She will be speaking at the online CIPD Northern Ireland Conference on 13 May – to find out more and book your ticket, visit the CIPD events website