Nobody can claim to know the future, but it is always in one’s best interest to prepare for it. With that in mind, and being aware of the restrictions imposed by the ongoing COVID crisis, how can we build teams that stand the test of time, technology, and quality? What is the best way to ensure - regardless of the industry, scope of work, or scale of a particular company - that there is always a strategy in place to provide the best for one’s people and to get the most out of them?
There are no certainties in the current work landscape, but there are some ways to move forward that are guaranteed to produce success more often than not.
One of these strategies is to operate from the mindset of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DEI), Why? Companies with a specific focus on DEI have 35% higher returns than companies that do not and have as much as 19% higher innovation revenues. In addition to this, there are some retention and engagement specific returns as well; over half of all employees want their current organization to increase their diversity, while nearly a third of all job seekers consider DEI to be an important factor in the organization they hope to work in.
But these are just facts and figures. To truly build a foundation that can implement a DEI workforce of the future, we have to look at the humanity inherent in the very process of DEI, and what we can do to facilitate that.
Catering for inclusion before diversity
With several efforts aimed towards building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace culture, the number game to track success often results in losing sight of the end goal - making the workplace one where each and every employee, irrespective of their social identities, thrives.
One of the biggest drawbacks of losing this purpose, is onboarding diverse team members, without catering for an enabling environment, and that is where companies have got it wrong. That is why we have numbers to show, but not a nurturing and inclusive environment to enable a sense of belonging.
As global employers accelerate their DEI efforts to undo the damage of 2020, it helps to pause and rethink if you need to shift your approach - Are you doing it right this time? Are your efforts sustainable? Is your workplace equipped to support, engage and build a diverse workforce?
To strengthen their DEI strategies for a meaningful, sustainable and impactful cultural transformation, business and talent leaders need to reinvent their DEI outlook and approach.
Inclusion essentials for a diverse workforce
Looking at increasing the scope of a company’s DEI policies can be a helpful attitude to have at the outset, but without the right implementation, it can very quickly turn into an empty gesture. Hiring more underrepresented folks is often thought of as the first step in the DEI process, when in fact, it is the last. There are many steps to take before hiring, and these steps can determine everything when it comes to the employee experience in a particular organization.
When women, people with disabilities, or LGBTQ+ folks are hired, they are often included in the organization in such a way that it doesn’t leave them with much agency. What companies really need to focus on is building a culture that can support these folks and make them feel like they belong, without it feeling like a forced inclusion - which can come across as tokenistic. To make this happen, companies need to be mindful of certain factors such as:
- Can your employees feel comfortable expressing and existing in their identities? Many LGBTQ employees feel the need to hide their orientations, and as a result of this, there are negative consequences across the board, from hampered productivity to adverse stress and severe mental health concerns.
- Does your company have the infrastructure required to build a safe space? This means having gender-neutral as well as disability-friendly infrastructure. On the structural level, this translates into having equitable leave policies for LGBTQ+ folks as well as having maternity policies that aren’t discriminatory towards certain people.
Workplace benefits for LGBTQ+ and disabled folks also need to be on par with their more represented colleagues.
- Has your company updated its literature to reflect the latest pronoun usage - and does it truly reflect gender neutrality? Often dismissed as a “cosmetic” concern, pronouns can drastically influence not only how a person is perceived but can impact their internal perception of themselves as well. This is why it’s instructive to have the latest pronoun usage on all the company literature so that inclusivity can be reflected on paper as well.
These are of course only some of the ways in which companies can make sure that their DEI workforce form an indispensable part of the unit. Businesses have to support their presence in the company, as well as encourage them to grow in their own ways. And they need to do this while operating with transparency and trust, and not under the garb of forced initiatives or tokenism.
Create a space for the future to grow
Investing in cultural, legal, and operational infrastructure is the way forward for companies who want to implement DEI in the right manner. And it’s essential to get the implementation right, otherwise, as a study recently pointed out - $9Bn is lost annually due to poor implementation of DEI policies.
As Inga Beale, Former CEO of Lloyd’s of London once said, “Many conversations about diversity and inclusion do not happen in the boardroom because people are embarrassed at using unfamiliar words or afraid of saying the wrong thing — yet this is the very place we need to be talking about it.”
It’s the very approach to DEI that makes implementation impactful and effective. There is a need for leaders to rethink the approach and align it to the needs of the emerging workforce construct.
The future is here, and if implemented well, it’s diverse, equitable, and inclusionary!
Read what global leaders have to say about the current state of DE&I and how to fix the broken equation, from the February 2021 issue of our e-magazine