The internet is saturated with articles about fostering a diverse culture in the workplace and they all make it seem so easy – we just need to celebrate diversity in all its forms. In practice creating a diverse workplace is far more complex. How can we find a balance between the chaos of diverse approaches and values and the need to have a standardized diversity and inclusion policy?
Why is a good diversity and inclusion policy important?
There has been much talk in the media recently about diversity and inclusion. We have seen many examples of when a company’s policy is not fit for purpose, including Amazon, whose leadership board is made up of predominantly white men.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development explains that diversity and inclusion is not just a moral obligation, it’s good business sense:
‘…promoting and supporting diversity in the workplace is an important aspect of good people management – it’s about valuing everyone in the organization as an individual. However, to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce it’s vital to have an inclusive environment where everyone feels able to participate and achieve their potential’.
The 2018 McKinsey report Delivering through Diversity shows that an effective diversity and inclusion policy is good for business.
It reveals a significant correlation between greater levels of diversity in company leadership and a greater likelihood of outperforming competitors in terms of profitability.
Advantages of a diverse and inclusive workplace
And a good policy doesn’t just bring a financial benefit: there are many advantages to promoting diversity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace:
- Promotes better working relationships
- Encourages better thought processes
- Boosts better decision-making
- Ensures greater staff retention
- Drives innovation
- Generates greater productivity
- Creates better customer relationships
What about other companies?
For some time now, larger multinationals have been criticized for not leading the way in promoting diversity.
A snapshot of Microsoft’s diversity and inclusion website (yes, they have a website especially for this) shows that they are far from ideal in the diversity stakes.
Within leadership, nearly 81% of employees are men and around two-thirds of the population are white. African-American/Black employees make up just 2.2% of leadership and only 4.3% are Hispanic/Latinx.
The numbers aren’t much better if you look at Microsoft as a whole:
- 25.9% of employees are female
- 5.9% from the Hispanic/Latinx communities and 4% from the African-American/Black communities
Interestingly, Microsoft lists many networks within their employee community that foster belonging: Egyptians and Microsoft, Dads at Microsoft, Visually Impaired Persons at Microsoft, etc.
What isn’t clear is who leads these initiatives (the employee groups themselves to promote belonging or their diversity and inclusion policy team).
Whilst this might foster a sense of belonging, many have argued that minority networks lead to self-segregation. This then further otherizes minority groups in the workplace.
Johnson and Johnson: Leading the way in diversity?
Johnson and Johnson has been lauded for its diversity and inclusion policy. In February 2018, the Australian branch was awarded the Workplace Gender Equality Agency award for Employer of Choice for Gender Equality.
On news of the award, Sue Martin, Managing Director of Johnson and Johnson Medical Devices in Australia and New Zealand noted;
‘As an organization, we represent the market in which we work and operate, in relation to age, gender, race, religion, sexual preference, disability and nationality. With a focus on diversity and inclusion, we must ensure that we embed a culture that not only treats everyone equally, but actively seeks input from all. Doing this will lead to more robust dialogue, smarter decisions and ultimately, sustainable growth in the short and long term.’
On their careers site, Johnson and Johnson state that their management is 40% female: still not equal but a significant improvement on Microsoft and Amazon.
However, if the likes of Microsoft can become such a dominant force in the technology sector, why does it need to think about a diversity and inclusion policy that is fit for purpose?
From a business perspective, surely it is doing the right thing.
The question, therefore, is how much more powerful could these companies be if they did get it right?
And if companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google are not shining examples, how can your company find a way to celebrate diversity and engender a sense of belonging?
Is my company’s diversity and inclusion policy fit for purpose?
It can be difficult to understand if your company’s policy is fit for purpose, after all, by its very nature it encompasses many differences. However, start by asking yourself:
- How is diversity part of my organization’s brand and ethos?
- How do we ensure that managers can understand different cultural norms, even the ones within the local area?
- How do managers include diversity in their work: from setting goals, to offering feedback, to agreeing working patterns?
- Does the workforce at my organization reflect our customers?
- How do we promote inclusivity now, and in the future?
How to improve your organization’s diversity and inclusion policy:
1. A fish rots from the head down
This descriptive saying speaks volumes for how an organization must approach diversity. Unless the CEO and the senior leadership truly believe in making diversity a reality it will never happen or at least not be as successful as it could be.
2. Go beyond compliance
Diversity should not just be a case of ticking boxes and ensuring a policy exists on the staff intranet to satisfy legal requirements. It should be lived and breathed in all aspects of the organization.
3. Make diversity part of your brand and ethos
Companies that do diversity well ensure that it permeates at all levels and via lots of channels. Set values that your organization will recruit with and manage by.
How does diversity feature in your company’s leadership training, resource planning, learning and development programs? Can your organization offer a corporate social responsibility program that promotes diversity and understanding?
Whatever you come up with, you need to promote those efforts so that talent and customers see you as a welcoming and diverse organization.
4. Promote understanding
Diversity has so many different facets. It can be as much about how people from different backgrounds react to body language, use of personal space and dress codes as cross-cultural understanding.
Managers need to be able to recognize these differences and find a way to normalize them within the workplace.
This doesn’t mean diversity is not recognized or celebrated but means that different points of view are included.
For example, a mentoring program doesn’t always have to mean the older, more experienced people within the company are the mentors. Perhaps new recruits can bring fresh ideas or may have been exposed to more recent theories?
5. Implement diversity in work processes
Managers can help promote diversity in the workplace by understanding the need to meter the way business processes are implemented. This does not mean every employee needs a different process or that one size fits all.
Managers can adjust the way they give feedback, trying to understand different motivating factors of employees and what values are important to them. They can then set KPIs with this in mind.
6. Reflect your customer base
Most companies have a diverse customer base and are not targeting one set of people from a particular demographic.
Your company needs to reflect its customer base and when it can’t, it should consider implementing training to overcome bias.
Bias is not always formed from bigotry but from life experiences and our own cultural norms. A recognition of our own unconscious bias can assist in ensuring a more open-minded approach and finding commonalities within diversity.
7. Implement diversity planning
Your company’s diversity strategy needs to work now and in the future, throughout the whole company. How will you increase diversity if you recruit only from the same talent pools?
One way to widen the acquisition pool is to look at other recruitment channels.
Talent acquisition doesn’t have to come from university graduates or specific industry networks; diversity can reflect a range of life experiences and educational backgrounds.
8. Recruitment is key
Nobody wants to be the token female or the single Hispanic or Muslim employee in the team. Nobody wants to be in their role just because of their identity.
Create a diverse pool of prospective employees so there is choice and candidates can be recruited based on their strengths and experiences.
However, this is not necessarily achieved through a non-diverse recruitment policy. Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman of the Ogilvie Group suggested in his Spectator article that, ‘By applying identical criteria to everyone in the name of fairness, you end up recruiting identical people’.
Diversity and inclusion policies, at recruitment level, need to purposefully diversify their pool: a company known to mostly employ male staff, isn’t going to attract more females by simply stating that they have a fair recruitment policy.
9. But future planning is also essential
It isn’t enough to confine diversity to the recruitment stage. There must be a visible path for employee development reflected in your diversity and inclusion policy.
Staff retention will suffer if someone cannot see how they will fit and grow within a company.
If there are no women on the management board now, will an ambitious woman want to stay and try to be the first female board member, or will she look elsewhere, to where she can focus on doing a great job, not on breaking down barriers?
Ensure that your exit interviews for employees feed back into your diversity and inclusion policy too if that is one of the reasons your staff are leaving.
Make diversity and inclusion count
Lots of companies are still struggling to create and implement a diversity and inclusion policy that is fit for purpose: even corporate giants like Microsoft and Amazon need to constantly review their programs.
With many organizations focusing on meeting KPIs, it isn’t easy to prioritize a good diversity and inclusion policy. HR professionals can’t simply pitch the wide-reaching benefits of an effective implementation to the Board. However, research shows that when companies get it right, a good diversity and inclusion policy has myriad benefits.
When you have in place a great policy that is supported by senior management and engages junior employees too not only will you have done the right thing ethically and legally – you will reap the financial benefits too.