The Federal Affirmative Action mandate has been with us so long it has become institutionalized. Certainly, it has advanced diversity and inclusion in the workplace, but standardization often reduces the human element. It reports data after the fact in the context of census data that lacks currency. So, conscientious employers are exploring strategies and practices to accelerate diversity and inclusion, increasingly important in these challenging days.
A recent conversation with some of the leading Human Resources officers at some of the leading national and global brands offered rich information on the ways they are making changes and changes they would like to pursue.
We made it easy by posing two simple questions:
- We have had success at accelerating our Diversity & Inclusion Programs by doing …
- I believe we can increase the effectiveness and success of our Diversity & Inclusion Programs by …
Now, the meeting participants represent a range of industry sectors, organization sizes, and situational contexts, but their inputs were far-ranging and imminently useful. These HR and Talent Management professionals brought high energy and enthusiasm to our focused discussion.
10 professional tips on achieving and maintaining Diversity & Inclusion:
- Wake up. There are strong messages in the social response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the contiguous social unrest in streets across the country. Any thought of a return to normal is regressive. As one participant noted, “We must have the humility to acknowledge we need a new level of intelligence to solve this.” We cannot just do what we have been doing.
- Add value. We must add value to Affirmative Action programs. As standardized, they present a few problems.
- The data-based approach compares goals and achievements against the previous US Census results, data that is invariably incomplete and dated.
- Compliance with the Federal mandate leads to some self-satisfaction with the results. Human Resource program administrators and organization leaders come to believe the data is prescriptive as well as descriptive.
- Affirmative Action becomes an administrative issue when it must be a cultural value.
- Cross the lines. Well-drawn lines limit inclusivity. Thinking — trapped by org charts and functional silos — slows or prevents integration. Data restricted to job titles and pay lines lack the vitality and energy needed by new approaches.
- Make the case. Human Resources has always run diversity initiatives. But C-suite executives must not remain arm’s length. Unless executives take charge, HR must pitch the need for Executive Sponsorship. HR must demonstrate how progress in Diversity & Inclusion align well with business strategy and culture. HR must reconfigure its data to make a case for ROI. They must show how qualitative analysis impacts the organization.
- Pay it forward. If D&I is reduced to a database, it misses the point. Successful D&I requires commitment and sponsorship from the top. The appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer is a positive move, but the obligation must inform the organization from recruiting through hire management, assessment, and promotion. D&I must be integrated at every level, a process not just a checklist. Other programs may have beginnings and ends, D&I must have momentum; it must be ongoing.
- Increase accountability. Accountability for successful D&I must be assigned to all stakeholders positioned to make a difference. However, there must be a culture that encourages the embrace of accountability. Whether accountability appears in performance assessments, compensation awards, or behavior bonuses, all stakeholders must understand what can happen when D&I happens correctly, improperly, or not at all.
- Form partnerships. Making D&I work requires us to leave our comfort zone. It means getting people into a room (or mindset) to build a foundation. All stakeholders must understand what it is and what it is not; they need definition, a shared understanding, and a culture strengthened by emotional connectedness.
- Multiply allies. People should not feel victimized or singled out. Everyone is accountable and should be held responsible. But inclusion means engaging others. The social climate may be emotionally charged and conflicted, but an inclusive culture pulls peoples and interests together. It listens to all areas speaking to their own experiences from different perspectives. The overview is myopic if it does not include all stakeholders — everyone in the individual and organizational life cycle.
- Build a strategy. Diversity and inclusion require policy, infrastructure, and framework. It must be driven from the highest level, even if the C-suite charges HR with its execution. HR cannot do it alone. D&I is not HR’s initiative; it must become part of the fabric and culture, an emotional part of who we are and what we do.
- Reimagine data. The data gathered, processed, and archived in HR must take on more. It remains a key performance indicator, but it contains more than quantitative information. Counting, sorting, and reporting demographic data is not enough. The patterns there provide resources for alignment and change. Any initiative must integrate data from other resources like self-disclosure, employee surveys, 360° feedback, and more.
One final tip
This volatile year demands new thinking. The D&I practices in place risk remaining static as they try to ride out the times and return to some so-called normal.
Passive practices like data gathering will continue, but revitalized approaches and qualitative data analysis must align business and social ends. Successful D&I may be CEO-driven and HR-enabled, but observable and measurable engagement must work throughout the organization.