How to build the culture of your organisation to enable diversity and inclusion
Adam Gates, Head of Odgers Connect, explores the topic of culture and explains how organisations can transform it to enable greater diversity and inclusion
The topic of diversity and inclusion (D&I) tends to be accompanied with statistics on gender parity in leadership roles or numbers of BAME new hires. This data is used as an objective reflection of an entire D&I portfolio. However, one does not always imply the other. The terms are separate entities that work in unison in order to achieve the overarching aim of equality, not just equality in numbers but primarily in respect and appreciation of colleagues and diversity of thinking.
D&I is a binary concept, a partnership with diversity measured quantitatively and its counterpart, inclusion, qualitatively. As numbers are perceived to be a definitive indication of D&I, they often become the priority; diversity takes the spotlight, undermining and concealing a greater need to develop inclusion programmes. In such a union, one cannot gain without the other. Inclusion must be as much of a priority, but culture change is not as straightforward.
Inclusion is about culture development and the feeling of belonging and valuing everyone as an individual within an organisation. The challenge is shifting mindsets to achieve this. Gaining buy-in from across an organisation is not easy when there continues to be unresolved stiff societal attitudes and a firmly ingrained organisational culture. Any change will face resistance and so it can be daunting for D&I leaders to know where to begin. The most common approach is to think about the commercial relevance of change. The countless recent reports published have provided an abundance of valid and tangible evidence of how D&I is an issue and importantly how positive change contributes to, and vastly improves, business success. Drawing upon this will give invaluable insight for attaining the necessary endorsement and sign-off to embark on a D&I project.
As much as the evidence shows increased D&I has great impact on business performance, it is arguable that the potential is limited by the extent to which the workforce is actively engaged in the programme. Hosting workshops, seminars and circulating literature on the topic can lead to progress in gaining intellectual agreement on the concept but converting that into day to day action is more difficult. There must be willingness to shift everyday habits in order to bring about a safe, receptive, empathic working environment.
An impactful method of generating more engagement with D&I is creating colleague support networks. These can be communities from any of the vast diversity categories with the aim of sharing, giving advice and enabling conversation; the latter being especially important as all colleagues should be encouraged to join any network that they feel passionate about, not just necessarily if they identify with it. The networks are for generating change from within and empowering individuals to speak up and become decision makers. To do this effectively, an organisation should input the necessary resources but entrust volunteers to run and organise the communities as autonomous groups within the larger ecosystem. This not only endorses the groups as authentic extracurricular networks, but also empowers colleagues to be leaders regardless of their position and title, to make connections across the business and, importantly, seek advice offline. Furthering this, these networks should be asked to participate in and guide the development of the D&I programme, giving regular feedback to allow a conversation about the issues to be tackled.
Policies should not be out-ruled, despite them being the most obvious choice with their inherent ability to dictate immediate change. D&I should be included in all processes throughout the organisation, from specific business operations, such as recruitment, through to individual action in communications. Flexible working and shared parental leave are emerging themes across many businesses which has facilitated opportunity to retain talent and support them throughout changing life conditions, no matter who they are. These are commonplace changes that are levelling the playing field and changing behaviours.
Diversity and inclusion as a concept is a bi-partite union requiring a tracking and evaluation programme that addresses the opposing natures of the two components but allows analysis of these in conjunction. Collecting stats and figures is not wrong but should be viewed alongside qualitative measures of success, such as discussions with the employee support networks. This cannot be back-office activity but instead should be published internally with the aim to increase transparency, enable discussions and expand opportunity for feedback and recognition.
D&I projects aim to shift working practices to value the contributions of all employees, without exceptions. Unlike conventional business activity that is increasingly data driven, there needs to be a greater focus on people over numbers in order to comprehensively integrate D&I activity and see progress. In the face of substantial challenge to change, organisations should do their best to commit to the programmes. The more it is designed into working practices and integrated into company culture the faster change will happen.
For more information, please contact Adam Gates.