It may seem as if a long time has passed since the Great Recession, but the United States was still clawing its way out of that massive economic downturn just 10 years ago. During 2011, the U.S. unemployment rate stubbornly hovered around 9 percent. Job growth stalled, with the Center for American Progress sharing data showing the number of new jobs falling to zero during August of that year. The public sector, the center further reported, shed “462,000 jobs at the state and local level between February 2010 and August 2011.” This partly explained why the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a meager 1 percent in the second quarter of 2011.
In the midst of that economic morass, members of vulnerable populations were disproportionately impacted by the downward trajectory of the job market. During that cataclysmic time and the years that followed, social scientists questioned how a new mold could be cast to shape a fair and equitable future workforce. In particular, researchers began focusing on diversity and inclusion (D&I), considering the positive development of those who were marginalized due to their social class, gender, ability, sexuality, citizenship status, race, ethnicity or culture. New models defined and explored the potential upsides to workforce D&I. Stephen T. Russell and Kali Van Camper’s “Diversity and Inclusion in Youth Development: What We Can Learn From Marginalized Young People,” which appeared in the Journal of Youth Development in 2011, is a good example of this academic work.
Flash forward to the present day. Meeting D&I goals is now an organized and formalized workplace activity. Many organizations have adopted D&I policies to promote employee retention, increase productivity and enhance their overall brand narrative. Commitments to D&I at the top of the org chart are earnest and widespread—embedded into mission statements and employee onboarding processes. According to a Dec. 30, 2019, report from Gartner, a survey of CEOs revealed D&I was the respondents’ top talent management priority.
But more work needs to be done. According to that same Gartner report titled 3 Steps to Sustainable Diversity and Inclusion Strategies, “only 36 percent of D&I leaders report that their organization has been effective at building a diverse workforce. Gartner research also reveals that 80 percent of organizations rate themselves as ineffective at developing a diverse and inclusive leadership bench.”
What’s Keeping Organizations From Growing Root to Stem?
As organizations seek to invest in D&I initiatives, human resources managers have an unprecedented opportunity to create strategic, quantifiable and sustainable change. Here are five considerations to take when working to deliver breakthrough D&I initiatives.
Examine Multiple D&I Models
One size does not fit all when it comes to implementing a D&I initiative. Fortunately, leaders have numerous ideas and approaches to choose from when they wish to embed D&I in organizational culture, including the Dial Method described by Charley Morrow in the April 1, 2014, Profiles in Diversity Journal
Geography, demographic shifts, technology, legal concerns and socio-politico environments play roles in determining which model or combination of models best meets the needs of an individual organization. Consequently, HR managers must spend time analyzing different models and approaches to identify which will be most applicable and practical.
When introducing and endeavoring to sustain D&I initiatives, HR managers should identify and secure buy-in from workplace champions. Broadly defined as employees who dedicate themselves to improving a work function within their organization, workplace champions are generally high-performing, engaged individuals who can authentically pass enthusiasm onto others. Workplace champions will be instrumental in institutionalizing D&I plans, especially because they will encourage two-way communication and be among the first to recognize fellow employees for their participation and performance.
Prepare Leaders With Skills to Support D&I
A systemic review of research on train-the-trainer programs published in the June 2012 Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions revealed that such programs help increase knowledge, improve behaviors and produce better outcomes for learners. The lesson here is that HR managers who train others to train others are more likely to perpetuate a D&I culture.
At Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, for example, we encourage master’s degree candidates to think of themselves as world leaders inspired to share with others and dedicated to benefiting both their communities and the organizations they serve. Imparting skills for organizational leadership such as empathy, kindness and helpfulness sits at the heart of this type of instruction. The end goal is a workforce whose members feel safe to take risks, initiate change and innovate.
Scrutinize Existing Policies and Practices
In many organizations, obvious and not-so-obvious forces prevent organizations from achieving a diverse and inclusive workforce. Outdated traditions can be difficult to adjust or eliminate. For example, some employees value holiday parties that recognize only specific cultural or religious traditions. Other employees may feel isolated by those same holiday parties.
Office politics, political preferences and unconscious biases may perpetuate and preserve policies and practices that foment discontent. By the same token, well-designed and equitably administered recognition and rewards policies can enhance D&I initiatives.
Track, Measure and Evaluate
As the saying goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
Too often, HR managers view D&I measurement as a nice-to-have rather than an imperative. Employee surveys, focus groups, informal feedback and other assessments are critical for gauging implementation and identifying areas for improvement. Over time, solid numbers on employee retention and new hires can also be tracked and linked to D&I initiatives. With evaluation data in hand, an employer can adjust, add enhancements to and continuously improve D&I initiatives.
The Myriad Benefits of D&I
Increased engagement, higher morale, greater retention and better recruitment result from successful D&I initiatives. Additionally, a growing body of research exemplified by articles such as “Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter” in the Nov. 4, 2016, Harvard Business Review points to another, more nuanced benefit of workplace diversity. Working with people who are different challenges the brain to overcome stale ways of thinking, which sharpens performance.
Diverse and inclusive organizations stand to benefit more as the economy springs back to life. As unemployment decreases and GDP increases, work cultures steeped in D&I principles will enjoy greater success. Already, researchers with McKinsey & Company, Deloitte and WorldatWork link D&I initiatives to stronger financial performance, greater innovation and pay equity.
A final consideration for employers is that millennials, who, some projections show, will make up nearly 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, have taken a lead role in social justice initiatives. These workers have particularly called attention to gender and racial inequities. As a group, millennials feel empowered and engaged in the workplace when they believe their organization fosters an authentically inclusive culture.
An organization with a refined D&I culture will be well positioned to benefit now and in the years to come. Taking a timely, methodical approach to developing and maintaining that culture will help an organization get there. Best practices for implementing, managing and benefiting from D&I initiatives that have been developed and shared over the past 10 years give organizations that are just now fully committing to D&I a tremendous head start.
01 October 2021
HR News Article