How seriously do you take Diversity & Inclusion?

After spending a full day with a selection of some of Nottingham’s most influential organisations at our “D&I Hackathon” last week, there is absolutely no doubt about the importance being placed on embedding Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace. All organisations have the ambition to achieve a fully inclusive workforce, but collectively are still tackling how to make it just “the way we do things around here”.

Although we know having a diverse and inclusive workforce is the ethical and moral approach to take, there is also a strong business case for it. Significant research has been conducted into diverse workforces that demonstrates a reduction in “group think”, an increase in innovation, problem-solving ability and greater receptiveness to change. It has also shown that having a workforce that represents the customers (current and prospective), should enable products to be refined and developed to meet their needs and boost profits. Having a workforce that is culturally diverse and aware is only going to do you favours, enable you to engage with global markets and with the incredible ethnic diversity right here in the East Midlands. Together, these benefits can increase productivity, retain talent and help your organisation appear in the marketplace as an employer of choice.

So why then are so many organisations struggling to achieve this state of nirvana? The number one reason is that we are all human! We bring with us opinions and biases – many unconscious to us. We have a natural affinity to align with “people like us”, and we are afflicted by a drastic lack of understanding and awareness of those that are different to us. Because of this, it can be very difficult to level the playing field where everyone feels valued, respected and understood. For us humans to feel like we can share and be ourselves, we have to feel safe, and that means we need to trust those around us.

Organisations have a big job on their hands! Changing mindsets and building trust and inclusiveness is not something which can be achieved in a 90-day plan! Many organisations have attempted to tackle D&I through some goodwill gestures which often get deemed as tokenistic, reinforce stereotypes and decrease buy-in from the broader workforce. Because these initiatives fail to gain traction and don’t deliver the intended outcomes, resources get reassigned and scepticism over this “business case” grows.

So how to tackle it, so it works. Emerging from our Hackathon are a series of key themes.

  1. Firstly, leaders are critical to the process; without alignment of hearts and minds to the benefits of D&I it will be very difficult for any programme to gain traction. Providing a variety of educational initiatives is paramount to gaining this understanding – don’t expect an easy journey – the more challenging and robust you can make the experience, the greater the chance of changing mindsets for real.
  2. Secondly, Embedding D&I should not be introduced as “an initiative”. For it to be meaningfully operationalised, D&I needs to be embedded as part of a full culture change programme. Employees are busy enough without having to “bolt on” some different behaviour which they don’t understand the importance of. Inclusive behaviours need to replace old behaviours, so it becomes “just the way we do things around here”.
  3. Thirdly, processes and systems need to be adapted to support diversity and inclusion; this starts with selection and recruitment, talent management, succession planning and performance management. Every system needs to have D&I built into it as an integrated feature – not a token extra.
  4. Finally, don’t expect change to happen overnight. Provide training for everyone, help people recognise and challenge their biases, encourage people to make different choices and reflect on the outcomes, reward incremental behavioural change and hold those accountable that refuse to toe the line.

Understanding the steps needed to embrace D&I is one thing, but operationalising it successfully is another. We have recognised the ambition organisations have to make meaningful change but also see the challenges associated with gaining buy-in and conducting holistic organisational transformation. As a value-driven organisation with a desire for everyone being able to “bring their whole self to work” we have designed a toolkit that can help organisations realise their vision and ambition.

If your organisation is about to tackle your D&I agenda but don’t know where to start, or need some support, please get in touch on penny@pennystrutton.co.uk