Equality and diversity in the workplace have become the most commonly talked about HR policies in the 2020’s. Many organizations have rushed to implement at least something so that they can demonstrate a commitment to making their workplaces more equitable.
Is diversity just the latest fashion?
But it can often seem that in the rush to comply with the modern trend, equality and diversity in the workplace are treated as just that – a fashionable trend that is an unfortunate part of doing business. Diversity champions and allies are frustrated by an apparent lack of commitment that does not go beyond a superficial statement of welcoming diversity and as a result inclusion initiatives too often fail.
So, how can you make a genuine difference to create equality and value diversity in the workplace? You may be surprised by some of the answers.
Don’t start with training!
Our first recommendation is don’t start with training. That’s right – don’t launch a training program for all your staff in the hope that this will fix the problem.
You will need to do some training eventually, but there are some significant challenges with starting a diversity initiative with training. A generic training program will frustrate those who are genuinely interested and increase the apathy of those who don’t yet care. And a racist or homophobe is not going to be convinced either by a one-hour eLearning or even by a two-hour workshop to change their views!
Data, data and more data!
Your first step must be to understand your data. Many countries insist on collecting and publishing gender pay-gap data, but you should try and look wider and deeper than this. We know that women earn about 85% of what a man earns in the US. But do you know how the accumulation of disadvantage impacts take-home pay? So a black woman takes home about 70% of what a man earns. We don’t have data for how much a disabled black woman takes home, but instinct suggests that it is not going to be more than a white man without a disability.
You can easily evaluate the state of your diversity and inclusion by looking at retention and recruitment data, segmented by pay grade. At first glance, the HR function is often seen as one of the most diverse – after all, 80% of all HR professionals are women, and the race and ethnicity proportions are much higher than in the general public. However, if you segment by pay grade, Chief HR Officers and HR Directors are much more likely to be men – disproportionately so.
Investigate how you can safeguard your recruitment and appraisal systems against unconscious bias. Mixed race and gender panels, removing names and education from application forms and random moderation of appraisal forms can be extremely effective in increasing the fairness of some of your systems.
‘No taxation without representation’
Once you have identified your more troublesome areas, it’s time to talk to your employees. The American Revolution was started with the chant, ‘No taxation without representation.’ And in the same way, you need to involve a wide range of employees in addressing the diversity challenge that every organization faces. Many companies set up diversity networks – employee resource groups (ERG) – and use them as focus groups as well as the support network for under-represented groups.
Use a combination of methods – face to face (or virtual) focus groups, surveys and anonymous reports – to ask employees for their suggestions. You won’t be able to act on every suggestion, but you should aim to report back publicly on progress. Get some quick wins and explain why some of the measures are not possible – or at least not possible now!
Don’t expect staff who have experienced discrimination or inequity to be suddenly grateful – there is a lot of trust to be rebuilt, but if you don’t involve them, that trust can never be rebuilt. And talking of trust – a more controversial recommendation: consult with over-represented groups as well. Find out from the dominant groups (in most cases, middle and senior managers who are white, straight, cis-gendered men) what their views on diversity are.
By this stage, you’re ready to do some training. You know the challenges, and you know where the problems are, so you can focus the training on those key areas. Whether you do the training online (virtual) or in person, it will have a much greater impact if your CEO can record a short introduction saying why they consider this a mission-critical initiative. Three or four minutes of this welcome, if backed up by them demonstrating through behavior their commitment, may have more impact than the training itself.
We also recommend that senior managers are seen to do the training with other staff as well. Ultimately, the success of the training – and in fact your entire diversity strategy – will depend on how the most senior leaders are seen to live and breathe their public commitments. If managers don’t take the training seriously, no one else will.
The biggest criticism of diversity training is that it is too abstract and doesn’t focus on what learners can do differently in practice. In other words, it raises awareness, but doesn’t give people things they can realistically and practically change. Focus on practical implementation and changing behaviors, not memorizing definitions of 20 different kinds of bias, for example.
Try and build diversity concepts into other training as well for greater effect. Do you offer training to line managers? You can incorporate elements of how inclusive teams perform better and emphasize a line manager’s duty of care to their teams. Do you offer project management training? Show that a project that incorporates and values difference is more agile and creative. Challenging external providers to incorporate inclusion into a wide range of other learning will help you make a huge cultural change in the workplace.
Diversity initiatives don’t need to be expensive and huge. In fact, they are much more effective if they are seamlessly integrated into the regular business of your business. That not only means you get a better return on your investment, but you make significant progress towards a genuinely inclusive culture.
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