There are some companies where diversity and inclusion is simply a matter of ticking the legal boxes. No more, no less. But if your company wants to get ahead with really improving diversity issues then think more along the lines of diversity as a journey. And like any successful journey it requires a good deal of planning and constant attention. Here are five ‘map references’ for a successful journey:
Creating diversity plans for groups of staff can be both time consuming and difficult. There are managers to consult with, presentations to win board level support and seeking expert advice on any potential legal issues that might trip you up. In all of this complex consultation, it’s all too easy to overlook the most important player of all, your target audience. Focus on the people who will take part. We don’t just mean how will you recruit them and how will you launch the initiative but how to collaborate and actively engage with them, creating that all important connectivity.
For instance, in one company’s leadership programme, all of the diversity network groups were on board early on. Even before there was a draft plan, the key players were closely involved to better understand what people would want, and especially what features might seem patronising or offensive. In contrast, another company introduced a mentoring programme with minimal consultation or open discussion. The response was polite disinterest. Employees appreciated the idea but found the design, and much of the content, patronising.
This point, we know, has been made many times but it remains the most important factor for success. Is there a senior champion for diversity and inclusion? Not just a figurehead who will make gracious appearances now and again but someone who will drive the programme forward in the same way as for any other business imperative, for instance ensuring there is a realistic resource – of people and finances – and clear individual or department measures of success.
To make sure your company is on track, think about what measures – the ‘sticks’ as well as lots of ‘carrots’ to encourage people – will be used to assess and reward diversity progress. So, what does ‘good’ look like? Show me the metrics! How will everyone around here know that we are creating sustainable change in terms of diversity and inclusion? Not just on the gender pay gap but more broadly on a variety of diversity and inclusion issues. If you don’t measure it, then don’t be surprised to find that little is likely to change.
Diversity and inclusion is a complex area with multi-strands of issues, legal frameworks and those all too frequent legal minefields. Companies still tend to work independently on this rather than in cooperation with others. Work smarter – rather than harder – by finding at least one other company to partner with. Even better join, or establish, a benchmarking club.
Reinforce positive behaviours
If you want to create marketing success in a company, then you reward – and showcase – early achievements. This approach will also make a big difference for diversity and inclusion. Find people who will be local champions, create department awards and encourage a bit of competitive spirit to reward and showcase who’s achieving most. You may be surprised how useful this is.
Not just networks, but networks with impact
We think that creating networks for different diversity groups is valuable but too many companies mistakenly think that giving employees permission to run a volunteer network on a shoestring is sufficient. While it may show some commitment on the part of the company, we believe that networks are most likely to make a big impact if you match each one with a different senior champion –someone who is already at board level who can access resources and promote and facilitate what the network needs. They will also learn a good deal in return.
And finally … the journey towards diversity and inclusion takes time and effort, so building in pauses for reflection and learning is essential. As Edgar Schein (2010) points out, “the ability to perceive the limitations of one’s own culture and to develop the culture adaptively is the essence and ultimate challenge of leadership”.
How does diversity and inclusion link with business strategy? Is it business critical? Is there a business framework where measures, incentives and sanctions are crystal clear for managers? Are you winning or losing? How do you know that the different diversity groups feel included in your company with regard to promotion, assignments and performance measurement?
If you held a mirror up to the policies and practices in your company, would you win a national diversity award? Are you inclusive? Are you leading diversity best practice or trailing a long way behind at the back doing just enough to meet the legal requirements? Even having these conversations makes a difference and fortifies you for the next phase of the journey.
Linda Holbeche is adjunct professor at Imperial College London and Viki Holton is a research fellow at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School