In this article series, we’ve been focusing on all-things diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are huge topics of conversation in the business world right now. From the #MeToo movement to concerns about Silicon Valley not having enough diversity among employees, it’s always in the media.
Despite the focus on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, many businesses find they have shortcomings in these areas.
Even if companies are checking all the boxes so to speak, it doesn’t amount to a culture of inclusion. As a result, business benefits and opportunities are being missed.
So what can really be done? How can companies create diversity and inclusion programs that work?
Steps To Building a Strategic Diversity Strategy
Whether a business has a current diversity strategy in place that needs to be reworked, or they don’t have any formal program yet in place, the starting place needs to be the collection of data and research.
Employers need to have relevant employee demographics. When considering diversity, it’s not just about gender or race. There are many other factors to consider such as gender identity, age or generation, language, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status, and even measures that can be more subjective such as learning style.
If employers don’t already have this information on file, they can ask employees to complete self-identification surveys.
Along with looking at factual diversity factors within the organization, employers should also get a feel for the general attitudes employees have about diversity and inclusion as it stands currently. Ensure that surveys or anything asking for these opinions or anonymous.
You want to delve into what employees see as the strengths and weaknesses in their workplace, and how they feel their employer as a whole makes efforts to appreciate diversity and foster a sense of inclusion.
Once this information is gathered, employers can start looking at the specific places where improvements need to be made. For example, is one demographic over-represented in leadership positions? Do employees feel like they’re being silenced or disrespected for reasons related to diversity?
From this point, the organization can start creating or updating policies. This is a point where it should become more clear where there are specific areas that are obstacles to diversity in hiring or inclusion once an employee is hired.
Some general areas policies might address can include of course diversity in hiring, but also more subtle things such as culture and unconscious biases.
Moving on, an organization can then start the important work of linking diversity and inclusion initiatives with business strategies. A company should be able to outline very specific goals that they hope to address by making changes in their diversity and inclusion programs, policies, initiatives, and training.
Performance indicators need to be measurable. Just one example could relate to innovation. Maybe a company wants to expand its products and appeal to a broader customer base, and inclusion initiatives are being used to gain more insight and diversity in voices and opinions to foster this innovation.
The final component of a strong strategy is to make sure there’s buy-in at the highest levels of a company. Senior executives need to lead the way when it comes to fostering diversity and inclusion.
Once a concrete strategy is in place, and there is buy-in from everyone in an organization, how can companies modernize their diversity and inclusion training? The following are some tips:
- Make it voluntary. Rather than making D&I training something that feels forced, demanded and part of a compliance exercise, reframe it. Make this training something that employees can opt to do because they want to learn more, they want to foster more inclusion and also because they want to develop their own This is likely to yield better results, and employers are going to see that most if not all of their employees will willingly participate in this kind of voluntary training.
- Training and all other aspects of any initiative should be focused on acceptance, rather than shaming. It’s very easy with D&I training for certain groups to feel like they’re being targeted or picked on. That creates resentment, making not only training ineffective but also leading to a culture of hostility and an us them mentality.
- Training should also be about enhancing the abilities and understanding of employees rather than correcting behavior or an issue. Make D&I training proactive, personalized and ongoing so that people don’t feel like it’s something inflicted on them as a punishment.
- Don’t only focus training on awareness—focus it on skills as well. When training is focused on skills, first there are better ways for people to put what they learn into action, as opposed to being trained on abstract concepts that don’t have much relevance to their daily jobs. It also makes it easier to hold employees accountable by setting certain measurable benchmarks.
- Keep diversity and inclusion training separate from one another. The terms can and often are used together with one another, but they’re really so different in what they mean in the workplace. Diversity training is primarily something that will be provided to managers and company leaders, as well as human resources teams and anyone involved in the hiring process. Inclusion is for everyone. Also, diversity isn’t just about race or gender, and training should reflect this.
- Offer individualized training in formats that people feel comfortable with. This will make it more likely that most employees will participate in voluntary training, and they might find it less daunting if they can work in a format and style that’s right for them.
Finally, with the introduction of the new initiatives and training programs, employers should make it known that they take this training and its effects very seriously. Along with measuring certain performance indicators following D&I training, employers should think about integrating elements of inclusion into employees’ performance reviews. This shows that employees have to be accountable in this area and that it’s a top strategic and organizational priority.