A lot has been said, written, and discussed on the idea of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – it all started in a sixth grader's political science textbook. Of course, diversity as the corporate world knows has assumed a life of its own and it is important to understand why.
For organizations that are in their way pioneering the idea of diversity, the objective is clear – to drive a holistic customer-centric strategy, every organization needs a workforce that is representative of the customers they serve. With that said, it is evident that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is not a board imperative, it’s not a CEO imperative, and it's most definitely not an HR imperative. In fact, it is a business imperative.
Now that we’ve addressed the need for diversity using the currency of business metrics that we all understand too well, let’s also take a slightly humane approach to it. As an idea, three basic human tenets are the cornerstone of diversity:
● Live and let live (Respect)
● Do the right thing (Trust)
● Value people for who they are (Individuality)
Diversity is much more than the idea of women's representation. It is about respecting individuality. It is about the level of comfort that people have with just being themselves in a workplace. No bullying, no mockery, no biases, and definitely no discrimination. It’s about feeling safe.
While we all agree that data powers progress, these are cultural aspects that cannot be fully explained with numbers on a dashboard. To understand some of the nuances of diversity, it may be useful to understand initiatives that have been incorporated by some organizations in a sustained manner – Not a fad but genuine year-on-year progress towards Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. One may consider these as best practices or just simple ideas to ignite real change that impacts the lives of those that work with us and represent us to the outside world.
- The ‘definition’ of Diversity: As an organization, once the “Why Diversity” is clear, it is important to have the “What” deliberated and understood by all. From simplistic definitions of gender, sexuality, and disability, organizations are now defining intersectional representation data that is important to them and for whom actions need to be designed. Further, as more and more data becomes available via the external ecosystem, corporates tend to understand the depth of what diversity can entail – for example, women in STEM or Tech hires, regional representation, intergenerational mix, military, remote workers, gig workers – the list can go on. The question of what diversity means is better understood if an organization asks itself, what does diversity mean to them?
- Incremental Diversity Practices and Trends: As the cliché goes, what gets measured, gets managed. Dashboards around diversity have also evolved to include more than just recruitment numbers. The overall experience of the underrepresented sections in various phases of the employee lifecycle is being looked at. For example,
- Recruitment: In addition to focused inclusion of underrepresented sections for lateral hiring and interviews at leadership levels, organizations are also focusing on strengthening their campus hiring strategy to hire freshers and kick start their journey. Targeted campus recruitment beyond the traditional schools to attract a wider variety of applicants from diverse backgrounds and geographies are some of the practices that have been seen.
- Predictive Dashboards: Diversity dashboards are now able to show current and historical data through the lens of the region, university, major, gender, and other factors, thereby, giving talent acquisition teams to use that data to drive a data-focused strategy of meeting representation goals. This helps in ensuring an equally engaging experience for all employees.
- Development & Retention: An organization's best chance of ensuring diversity at leadership levels is to ensure that they can cultivate the talent that is homegrown and rises from within the company. High potential programs exclusively for the underrepresented groups, mentoring programs, other internal and external learning opportunities, all lend themselves to removing developmental barriers of these groups of people. Furthermore, customization of career paths is not just accommodated but encouraged in organizations like Marriott and Hyatt to maneuver around key life stations.
From an ‘inclusion culture’ to an ‘inclusive brand’: Organizations that have sustained the idea of inclusion over a period of time are working diligently to be known as inclusive brands which encompass the experience of not just their employees but also their external stakeholders like vendors, customers, knowledge partners and the world at large. Companies like Google are constantly looking to make all their products inclusive – they have institutionalized practices like online crowdsourcing platforms to encourage anyone anywhere to help improve the inclusivity of Google’s products. Fashion labels around the world are looking to build inclusivity from the very beginning of the design process - products are designed in a way that is useful to anybody, including the disabled community. Nike’s latest hands-free shoes are a testament to the focus on creating an inclusive product for the billion-plus population of the world with some form of disability.
Leadership Accountability Matters: Once an organization sets itself up for a journey to do the right thing, leadership accountability is what keeps it going. It is easy to lose oneself in the everyday hustle of operational madness – however, organizations like Citibank, Google, etc. realize the importance of a strong governance system to track progress. Affinity groups wherein the CEO and their one level down co-chairing different affinity groups within an organization is a well-established governance system within companies like Citibank. They help provide accountability for an equitable and inclusive culture. The Affinity leaders act as public champions for the priorities and needs of each demographic, both within the company and externally.
Diversity from what we knew of it a decade ago to how we see it today has undergone a monumental shift in more ways than one. Inclusion & Equity are fundamentals that need a far greater investment than just classroom training on debiasing. While understanding biases is important, let's acknowledge it as just that – a first key step. Let’s add a little humanity to the idea and then all of this may not be as hard as we sometimes make it out to be.