Preparing for the inclusion journey
Many organizations have a tendency to pick practices from other companies without validating it for their organizational circumstances
As a diversity and inclusion (D&I) solutions consultant in India, it is heartening to see that more organizations are beginning to understand the merits of signing up for the inclusion journey. But, many end up being hit or miss initiatives as the basic premise for success in this space calls for much more than great plans and resources.
The harsh reality about diversity initiatives is that it calls for a huge amount of focused and consistent hard work over a period of time. Building inclusion is a long and tedious change exercise and keeping organizational energy from flagging is a vital step in the process.
Based on my experience with organizations, there are a few pointers that companies can take cognizance of in order to ensure that initiatives are not undermined or derailed.
Firstly, organizations must remember that D&I is not just good intent. Inclusion in the organization is one’s experience of the quality of relationships and the productivity it unleashes at work. It is not something that can be measured by a checklist of policies or activities, but is based on how we communicate and perform in everyday situations. It must be supported with enabling policies, systems and practices. Only a multi-pronged agenda that is implemented with the same rigor as other critical business initiatives will help it move forward.
This means that leaders must walk the talk. While most are supportive with resources, they must consciously and more importantly invest time and energy to visibly champion the cause. Any perception of the management’s lack of interest or participation is all that it takes for the rest of the organization to resist efforts.
Unwittingly dismissing diversity initiatives as “just another activity” is a clear invitation for efforts to fail. It is important that leaders are personally convinced of why the business has embarked on the journey. If not, small behaviours are likely to leak their lack of interest. Teams, as we all know, will interpret this as unimportant to their leader and that supporting efforts is optional. Leaders must appreciate that the rest of the organization will take what they say and do seriously.
Another mistake that many organizations tend to make is the decision to pick practices from other companies without validating it for their organizational circumstances. The best practices of one organization are not necessarily the best one for yours. Like this organization that proudly announced the provision of a lactation room when none of the women in the organization were culturally ready for it….No one was using it, yet the organization listed it as a best practice!
While assessing and learning from practices of other organizations is a great idea, the best practices for each organization is usually homegrown based on the nature of business needs, demographics of employees/customers, internal readiness for change, resources available and such like. A cut-and-paste solution often undermines the credibility of the program.
Organizations must also proactively prepare for the “discomfort” that D&I efforts can spawn. D&I is a complex arena. It’s one of those initiatives that take some serious “soaking in” before it delivers. Inclusion is not our natural default behavior. We need to be taught and led into it through conscious and sub-conscious prodding as it is often a sensitive issue to digest. Yet, do not hesitate to convey the hard messages. Choosing to “package” it to fit internal levels of comfort can mean the message is lost even before it has had a chance to present itself!
What’s the level of inclusion in our organization? Will it raise concerns of reverse discrimination? Are our teams “enabled” to work productively and engage with each other on a synergistic basis? Are they innovating together or working alone or in silos? Are employees just doing their individual best or is it being leveraged for organizational outcomes? All of these are difficult questions that managers must ask themselves and strategize to make happen in their teams. If not, efforts will be diminished and underappreciated discouraging uncomfortable conversations for genuine progress.
Similarly, few organizations are actually prepared to understand the breadth, depth and complexity of what is involved. Whatever is the trigger for beginning diversity work, the key stakeholders of the organization must buy into it. Making the HR department the diversity officer or an external consultant responsible for outcomes will never deliver results. The passion and drive of only a few people in a department is hugely inadequate for the challenge involved. It must be a collective responsibility. If not, it runs the risk of being seen as that one department’s or consultant’s program and not one in which the rest of the organization is vested in. Organizations must therefore do whatever it takes to get everyone on board.
Yet another grievous error is the desperate need to measure RoI. My request to such organizations is “stop measuring”! While this sounds counter intuitive to our “what gets measured gets done” philosophy, the fact is that the gestation time that D&I initiatives take to deliver outcomes is so long that it can be discouraging. When too much emphasis is placed on the RoI of initiatives with impact being measured each quarter, it usually ends with the organization thinking that it is not delivering results and discouraging future efforts.
Putting time and energy into the inclusion journey is an investment of faith. Just like sending our child to the best school is no guarantee the child will be successful, we must make this investment as the cost of not doing so can be very expensive for the organization.
When organizations acknowledge the reality of these challenges as they embark on D&I initiatives, it can help them steer clear of some of the commonest pitfalls and increase the chances of successful implementation. Each of our individual actions and inactions are powerful determinants of organizational culture and therefore it is imperative that we do the right things to shape and sustain changes. It’s not a choice anymore, it’s a business imperative!