Diversity & Inclusion has always been a topic of interest for me but as yet I have never worked in a company that fully embeds it and does it well. It generally feels like a topic that raises its head as an outcome from a Gender Pay Gap analysis or Talent/Succession process whereby there is a sudden need to hire more women. As such, companies set targets, implement some form of “positive discrimination” process and try to remove any implicit or unconscious bias as part of the recruitment process – and while I can see the thinking behind these methods to try and force a shift in the right direction my concern is that, if a company is hiring diverse candidates for diversity’s sake alone then there is a real risk of tokenism which can cause more harm than good.
I think it is fair to say that most companies understand that a diverse workforce drives better business outcomes such as generating new, innovative ideas as well as business/financial performance; that said for the most part what I have seen, globally, is the trend to spend time focusing on diversity initiatives driving change in the under-represented groups rather than change the company culture itself. Basically, Diversity & Inclusion becomes an additional extra or bolt-on, not part of the “norm”.
My view is that to ensure that you are getting the most out of Diversity & Inclusion initiatives companies must make sure that they stay up to date and relevant with what is happening in the external market/ever-changing landscape. For this to happen, a couple of action points are:
- Ensuring that your implicit or unconscious bias training takes into account, not just the traditional women vs men view but the changing landscape of your talent pool. Gender identity and gender expression/presentation have been a much-talked-about subject in recent years with Merriam-Webster “America’s most trusted online dictionary for English word definitions, meanings, and pronunciation” recognising “they” as a singular, non-gender-specific pronoun last year. One could say that this could remove the gender divide but in fact, it could also develop some additional bias that before was significant or relevant. Leaders are in constant need of education of their responsibility in embedding a diverse and inclusive culture.
- Ensuring that any metrics developed stay relevant. Taking the point above; if candidates are moving away from being identified as “he” or “she” how does this fit into a “% of women being hired” metric? You could use birth gender but then is that alienating transgendered candidates etc. Needless to say this is when metrics become a mind field and if you don’t safeguard their relevancy then the culture and behaviours you are trying to drive could be at best, outdated at worst, detrimental.
- Shifting From Diversity & Inclusion to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. The main focus has been on “Diversity” i.e. increasing the representation of people from various backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences, and “Inclusion” i.e. making space and amplifying the voices of everyone in the workplace; but that is only part of the equation. In order to truly embed Diversity & Inclusion into the fabric and core of a company, the focus needs to be on “Equity” – creating and developing the systems and structures to address equity in talent development initiatives and succession planning and ultimately unpicking the decision points that lead to pay inequity.
For me, by wiring Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion into a company’s Culture, it enables it to operate with a deeper level of transparency and around compensation reporting, diversity in leader representation, and talent focused practices which again can only be a good thing for a company to help shift the dial in the right direction.