Focusing On Diversity? You May Be Missing Something Big

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I spend a lot of time talking to people involved in D&I. Their focus is often on diversity – tracking and increasing it, largely through recruitment. This is really important but misses a key element - the environment people join.

This is an issue that has been bothering me for some time, so I was really happy to see it surfaced, amongst other key issues, in the CIPD’s recent report ‘Diversity and inclusion at work: facing up to the business case’. To quote the authors ‘Increasing diversity is more than hiring someone who differs on a surface characteristic level and hoping this will increase team innovation; we need to consider other aspects of the team too’

I’ve met a few organisations who have very successfully worked to build diversity into their recruitment strategy, only to have people leave within a year because they didn’t feel they belonged. 

Some of these organisations have recognised their failings and are using the lessons learnt to make changes but I’ve also met organisations who have dismissed it as a ‘failed experiment’, unwilling to recognise their part. One person’s perfect culture is another’s daily discomfort. You might have monthly beers, great ‘banter’ and a ‘work hard play hard’ mantra that many people love but to others (me included) that sounds horrific and not like somewhere they want to be.

If most people in your organisation have similar backgrounds they are more likely to hold similar views, have the same conversation topics and reinforce each other’s world view. Throwing someone from a different background into the mix and placing the responsibility to succeed entirely on them seems slightly mad.

The report cites Nishii (2013)’s three aspects of a inclusion climate, which represents a fantastic set of goals: ‘(1) ensure policies and procedures are fairly implemented and reduce bias to create a level playing field; (2) recognise and embrace differences, so individuals can bring their whole self to work without fear of recourse; and (3) include all individuals in decision-making, even if alternative ideas are different from the current state of play’.

If this is the kind of culture you want, you need to build it for every person - for those who work for you now and those who you want to work for you.

There are organisations starting to do this with success. They are weaving inclusion through everything as well as calling it out overtly. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do it all at once, begin by looking at your current projects with an inclusion lens. Design with everyone in mind and strongly challenge assumptions – yours and those of others. Specifically, what real, credible evidence do you have for the way you are designing processes and products for your employees?

Engagement data can help your understanding, but great scores aren’t enough. You need to go deeper - how you look at the data will change what it tells you. You might know 70% of your staff are white, educated at a top university and male and 75% of your staff are very happy and engaged. Do you know where the two intersect? Do you know who is happy? It sounds very obvious, but not all organisations take the time to look beyond the surface of their data or do anything about the stories the data shows them. To many 75% engaged staff sounds great, but what about the other 25%?

Speak to a broad range of employees, not just those that put their hands up. You know those people - the ones all good HR folk rally around, the team of people who support events, get involved in recruitment and help champion your cause. Well for this you need go further afield. Yes, take their views on board but also think of creative ways to engage and understand the people who don’t volunteer just as much as the people who do.

Use what you learn to help inform what you do and to help you challenge the assumptions of those around you!

I could spend days discussing the many small and large things you can do to improve inclusion – I’ll leave it there for now though and look forward to continuing the conversation on the 14th November at the CIPD Central London Branch, Diversity & Inclusion Question Time, book yourself a seat if you haven't already.

Caroline Marsh