When the D&I Solution Is the Problem

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Feb 23, 2021

In the wake of ongoing societal and political challenges, many organizations’ D&I efforts are still being viewed through a microscope. Often, these examinations are finding that corporate efforts still comprise a mash-up of short-lived campaigns or initiatives. 

To improve on past failures, companies must start by infusing D&I into the entire employee experience. As an HR professional, you may not have the title of chief diversity and inclusion officer but make no mistake: D&I should be a large chunk of your role and responsibilities. 

Moreover, by offering employees a diverse and inclusive work environment, you’re going to see added benefits, including 35% better performance, 87% better decision-making, and 1.4 times more revenue. Here’s how to get there.

1. Make D&I Measurable

Collecting employee data can be intimidating and challenging in the best of scenarios. The task is magnified when employees aren’t sure how the information will be used. So, as you collect data, make sure employees know why you’re collecting it. In some cases, a third party may be a good option for easing people’s privacy concerns. 

The good news is that 90% of employees are willing to let their employers collect and use data — so long as you maintain proper levels of transparency. It’s therefore important to ask questions like:

  • Have we effectively communicated to the entire organization how this data will enhance D&I efforts to create positive change?
  • How does our organization rank against the most recent EEOC benchmarks?
  • Are we applying these metrics to employee shifts (e.g., promotions or special assignments)?

2. Dissect the Employee Experience

Consider how D&I can play a bigger role in employees’ work lives — and beyond.

Think about the meetings, communications, recognition moments, social events, and other daily interactions or tasks that make up the daily workflow. It’s critical to acknowledge that these moments can bring teams together — but they can just as easily cause discomfort or unintended exclusion if mismanaged.

Therefore, be sure to use gender-neutral language for internal messaging and external communications. It’s often such little things that aren’t so little when it comes to creating a big impact. Plus, attention to these kinds of details will resonate much more loudly than a big, insincere campaign; canned, one-off training; or cliched “engagement” activities.

You can also encourage scheduling flexibility. For instance, does a new mother returning to work feel comfortable putting a block on her calendar to take care of her or her child’s needs? The key is to show empathy where and when it matters. 

3. Live It From Your Core

Your D&I statement shouldn’t be just a one-liner on your website. It should emulate the core values of your organization. Think not only of how your company operates internally but also externally. How are you representing it in the marketplace?

That means rejecting the notion of hiring for or defining your company brand based on a “cultural fit.” Of course, each workplace has its own culture. But resist the temptation to try to embody that culture with any trait that might lend itself to a particular generation, gender, or other demographic category. Too often, “cultural fit” quickly and easily becomes synonymous with creating a homogenous workforce and judging new hires on personality or demographics.

Additionally, D&I is key to strengthening your employer brand. According to Glassdoor, 76% of job-seekers and employees feel a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. Don’t miss out on top talent because your organization may be built on antiquated initiatives. 

4. Encourage Collaboration and Disagreement

Just like when we were kids, many of us fear being the odd person out at work. That won’t happen if you build a culture of courage — courage to stand out, to go against the grain. It’s the kind of courage that comes from knowing that colleagues respect differing opinions and that the company values trust. Creating this depends on HR’s ability to establish a safe environment for employees to speak up about conflicts and express their views on improving systems, policies, and processes.

People also need to know their feedback will not work against them. Consider setting up a committee of employees with diverse backgrounds to discuss issues openly and create paths to resolve them.

Also, encourage employees to review the company’s D&I efforts with HR. This will give individuals the ability to express their opinions with an advocate who can advise leadership where the organization is perceived to be falling short. 

5. Train Your Leadership

D&I messaging and training cannot come from one source. It must come from a symphony of voices. Look at your immediate leadership team. Does it consist of people with different backgrounds, ages, genders, and ethnicities? If not, it might be best to start at the top. Meanwhile, empower your leaders to champion this effort, and encourage employees to police it and hold peers accountable. 

This isn’t easy stuff. There’s no quick fix to D&I shortcomings. That’s why ongoing training is key for leaders to proactively invoke change and be role models for the culture they desire. 

Ultimately, stopping at the traditional answer to achieving D&I — hiring for diverse backgrounds — is just a Band-Aid. To truly succeed, you need to go further and recognize that this isn’t a hurdle to overcome. It’s an opportunity for action that can enhance your organization internally and externally.

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