Catch them young, they say. Schools definitely seem to be doing just that, and rightly so. I was very intrigued when my 12-year-old was given an assignment to research Diversity and Inclusion, as a school project. He was shocked to read about Apartheid, but closer home, he could relate to religious profiling. He was very surprised to learn about the gender pay gap, especially as the son of a mother who always went to work, no different from the way his father did.
This got me thinking, how are we educating our workforce about diversity and inclusion? Granted we have a workforce that young and aware and expectation of a culture that promotes inclusiveness is table stakes for them. However, what signals are we sending out when we celebrate International Women’s Day by giving all women employee a flower at work? For those of us that have managed to move beyond notional gender-based inclusion, we are focused on cultural diversity, LGBTQ, persons with disability etc. The question then for all HR leaders is, what role do we play in weaving Inclusion into the fabric of the culture at our organizations? My research and personal experience over many years are crystallized below:
Have a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy
The jury is out on whether inclusion should be owned by the CEO or by HR. My views are, ultimately everything rolls up to the CEO. Where would we be with the CEO’s push to performance management rigor or investment in learning and development? Inclusion needs a strong owner in the organization of today and no one is more ready and equipped to lead the charge on this than the HR leader. Ultimately, what works for your organization is just fine, just as long as D&I feature prominently on your HR charter.
A D&I strategy involves defining the aspects of the premise that are most important to our clients and employees and then ensuring you have the structures, culture, and incentives in place to execute on that strategy. For example, does it serve your customers and people the most for you to focus on gender and LGBTQ, ethnic, racial and religious inclusion or on generational and cultural inclusion. The ultimate objective needs to be build a workplace where employees from different experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs feel a sense of belonging and can see a competitive but collaborative collective future
Be a stakeholder in tactical planning; help stay away from a pure programmatic approach
Why am I asking HR to get involved in tactics? Well basically because organizations haven’t gotten this right yet and HR needs to roll up its sleeves and help fix this. A lot of D&I programs do not work because they get relegated to someone to execute who turns it into an off and on fun event or a communications campaign that no one bothers to read. Our workforce is more interested in first understanding why inclusion is important from a business perspective and they want to know that their organization isn’t just tooting the D&I horn because it’s cool to do so.
HR can help the workforce with access hard business performance facts, content and subject matter experts that explain proven cause and effect relationships between D&I and business performance. HR can encourage dialogue and educate the workforce about unconscious bias and cultural sensitivity. As the gatekeeper for an organizations’ culture, HR needs to determine how the shared values support the D&I strategy. Do we encourage open and honest communication, allowing employees to open up about preferences and bring their authentic self to work? Do our employees feel comfortable that they can collaborate with each other towards collective success or are we fostering a cut throat, every man for himself culture.
Provide actionable intelligence to your business
I am a firm believer in what doesn’t getter measured, doesn’t get done. HR is sitting on a goldmine of employee data that can help the organization determine how well we are executing on our strategy. Right from our hiring mix to our promotion pipeline and attrition analytics, there are indicators everywhere to the progress of D&I journey. Again, who is better equipped than HR to ensure that these metrics make it to the CEO’s weekly/Monthly dashboard? IT would be a huge value add to the business if HR could create actionable insight for these dashboards by cross-referencing other HR data with the employees satisfaction survey data
Benchmark your organization against your peers and customers
It makes sense to have teams in your organizations that look like teams at your customers’ organization. Therefore it’s a no-brainer that HR needs to be able to stay on top of their recruiting mix. Many organizations have instituted gender, ethnicity and generational diversity thresholds in their selection process to ensure that diversity is improved right at the source
Merely ensuring we hire a diverse workforce will not be enough. HR needs to play a pivotal role in ensuring development and mentoring opportunities are available to diverse candidates to help them sustain their careers with the organization. Another important role for HR to play is to ensure that the entire organization receives sensitivity training and is equipped to deal with unconscious biases arising from working with a diverse workforce
Last but not the least, it also falls on the HR leader to ensure that grievances and escalations related to any kind of discriminatory behaviour are investigated and addressed through a formal process.