From ensuring access to a range of skills, ideas and personalities to strengthening overall culture, diversity and inclusion play crucial roles in how organizations operate and grow. Yet, D&I initiatives will only ever be as effective as the leaders driving them. Having a written policy in place will mean nothing if no actions are taken to diversify the workforce and build an inclusive culture.
Especially right now, D&I initiatives are incredibly important for enabling an organization to make necessary changes to meet challenges and seize opportunities. So, how can executive leadership better understand the value of diversity and inclusion, and then drive real organizational change by implementing D&I initiatives?
Understanding Diversity and Inclusion
When discussing diversity and inclusion, it is important to define exactly what those terms mean. Diversity refers to the range of human experiences. It includes dimensions like ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, political and religious beliefs, socio-economic status and ideologies that come together to create unique individuals. Within an organization, diversity also refers to the different ways in which unique individuals interact and collaborate to achieve common business goals.
Inclusion is about ensuring everyone who interacts with the organization feels that their voices are heard and that they are embraced because of their differences. An inclusive organization celebrates and champions differences. It also involves every employee in the work of the organization.
Why D&I Initiatives Are Valuable
Particularly for public sector organizations, D&I initiatives provide great opportunities to communicate the message that one of the main reasons the organization exists is to reflect and serve the community. Since every community is made up of a diverse mix of individuals whose voices all need to be heard, putting together a diverse workforce demonstrates a commitment to the goal of being responsive to the community’s needs.
From a business perspective, organizations that are beholden to the public interest have a compelling interest in incorporating as many interests—and as many voices—as possible. D&I initiatives encourage the generation of new ideas from people with an array of viewpoints that differ from, and may directly challenge, those held by organizational leaders. This encourages innovation. And when it comes time to implement innovative programs, diverse teams can create more detailed strategic plans that address a broader number of concerns, bring a stronger focus on accomplishing objectives and act with a clearer purpose of delivering benefits for all members of the community.
Such outcomes from D&I initiatives translate into measurable returns on investments. Research shows that organizations with diverse management teams experience higher revenue growth than do organizations that lack diverse leadership. Or, as the World Economic Forum put it in the title of a report published on April 29, 2019, “The Business Case for Diversity in the Workplace Is Now Overwhelming.”
Where to Start With D&I Efforts
The end goals for D&I initiatives should be creating an organization that celebrates the uniqueness of each employee and which provides space and opportunities for employees to express their unique viewpoints so everyone can realize common benefits. Moving toward those ultimate goals can be daunting. When deciding how to begin, organizational leaders should do the following things.
Build Organizational Buy-in
Buy-in cannot be limited to members of the executive team. Leadership on D&I initiatives must come from champions throughout the organization. To enlist support from the employees who are carrying out the work, leaders should have ready answers for why the organization needs to diversify and where diversity and inclusion are lacking. If leaders have never been asked such questions before, that indicates where the organization is starting from.
Leaders should also set goals and expectations for D&I initiatives. The goals should be more than boxes to check, and tokenism cannot be treated as diversity. D&I goals are being met when all employees see themselves as parts of a healthy, well-functioning organization.
To get buy-in, leaders can sit down with employees and discuss the purpose of D&I initiatives. Making progress requires everyone to grasp why diversity and inclusion are important, and each employee needs to know what roles they play in bringing it into reality.
Increase the Recruitment Sphere
An organization that wants to diversify its workforce should look at the community or region in which it operates and at its customers in order to select and hire candidates who reflect those external populations. This seems obvious, but many well-meaning organizations that commit to finding and recruiting diverse candidates begin searching in the wrong places.
Rather than relying on established networks of referrals or traditional recruiting channels—what I call “fishing from the same waters”—organizations must look elsewhere to find top candidates. Keep casting your net in the same places, and you will always land the same kind of fish.
Organizations that want to diversify can partner with religious institutions and faith groups; historically black colleges and universities, as well as schools with large enrollments of minority students; and local nonprofit organizations and community foundations. Doing this alerts a wider audience to job opportunities.
Executives, who typically maintain large personal networks, can exercise significant leadership in this area. Those placed in charge of an initiative to diversify the workforce should ask executives if there are people with whom they could personally share news of job opportunities in order to broaden the pool of candidates.
Create Mentorship and Growth Opportunities
Inclusion must follow from diversification. Achieving this starts with ensuring all employees can make their voices heard and with making it clear to employees that they can make a positive impact on the organization. Each employee must also be guaranteed a role in working together toward accomplishing shared goals.
To show new hires that their contributions will be valued and their ideas will be given due consideration, organizational leaders must invest in opportunities for new employees to connect with executives, talk about new ideas and present opportunities for advancement. It is also important to help peers connect with one another so they can build a sense of community, which is vital for any organization.
Making these efforts shows the seriousness of the endeavor. It also helps grow the recruitment sphere and provides additional opportunities to embrace diversity and inclusion as the workforce grows.
Connect With Community Members
Regular discussions with people in the community about needed changes should be part of each D&I initiative. Beyond widely sharing job postings, organizational leaders should find ways to speak with people and groups across the community the organization serves. This is a good way to stay innovative in D&I efforts because community members often have the best ideas regarding where improvements can be made and how the organization can be a stronger citizen. Local business owners, faith leaders and elected officials, in particular, can bring forth plenty of new ideas and point out where D&I initiatives have and have not effected change.
Despite all other efforts to solicit and act on input, the organizational leaders that launch D&I initiatives will be the primary drivers of change. They are the ones everyone else in the organization will look to for direction and guidance. Because of this, leadership has an obligation to ensure they are representing their communities and their employees as fairly and equitably as possible.
So, to leaders, I say, “Own this.” Embrace the value that diversity and inclusion bring to your organization and do what you can to make sure others embrace it as well. Become champions for change and help your employees and community achieve greater success as a result.
01 October 2020
HR News Article