Embedding DE&I: diversity, equity and inclusion as a journey, not a destination
The business case for embracing diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is clear. A 2020 report by McKinsey shows that companies with highly inclusie workplaces perform better – and are more resilient – than their peers; in fact, the study clearly links ethnically and gender-diverse executive teams to greater profitability.
All of which means that for organisations looking to target investors, attract talent or optimise workforce productivity, creating a more inclusive environment is a strategy that’s both smart and ethical – a win-win for forward-thinking business leaders.
That said, although the impetus for workplace reform has gained ground over the last few years – partly because of a higher awareness of global social movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter – progress is still frustratingly slow. And, while investment in DE&I initiatives is on the rise, it’s hard to completely dismiss allegations that some companies may be more invested in the optics of compliance – so-called ‘diversity washing’ – than they are in a truly fundamental shift in policies and practices.
Motivations aside, as the conversation moves from the ‘why’ to the ‘how’ of implementing diversity, equity and inclusion, the key to unlocking real progress is to foster its principles in every aspect of the workplace and to embed them firmly in the company culture, effectively establishing a more receptive and adaptive eco-system in which everyone can thrive.
Recruiting talent from more diverse sources is essential – even if it means shaking up existing routines along the way. As long as recruitment processes follow established protocols, it’s hard to target more diverse candidates – something that requires a consistent commitment to more inclusive practices and properly resourced initiatives linked to strategic objectives.
Rethinking recruitment and development
Simple interventions include publishing job descriptions that are more inclusive, assembling more diverse interview panels and showcasing a company’s commitment to diversity by ensuring that web and social media content – all the likely candidate touchpoints – represents and communicates an inclusive sense of belonging.
It doesn’t end with recruitment. Organisations should also ensure that everyone has fair access to career advancement opportunities, especially for senior roles. It’s likely that companies will need to put policies in place to formalise recruitment, promotion and succession planning processes based on competencies rather than affinities, and with emphasis on equal representation.
This shift may require a rethink of current assumptions about the ‘ideal’ employee – a deliberate disruption of the preconceptions that often undermine diversity. Continuing to target candidates who feel like the ‘right fit’ for an existing team automatically excludes people who not only represent a different socioeconomic group, gender or ethnicity but also disadvantages disabled applicants or those with cognitive- or neuro-diversities.
Adopting a broader view of abilities and experiences will accelerate DE&I. Deploying an intersectional perspective not only helps to foster the kind of culture where all identities are valued but also discourages stereotyping candidates or promoting ‘tokenality’ of members of a social, racial or cultural group.
Senior leadership should be responsible for setting the tone, with policies, processes and practices honed to reflect a company’s diversity aspirations.
But, while championing inclusivity and employee engagement at leadership level is essential, the journey to inclusion is accomplished through everyday actions. Focus, therefore, should be given to de-biasing the interactions and activities that inhibit connection and collaboration while promoting the inclusive behaviour that has the potential to elevate performance.
Embedding these initiatives as part of everyday practice requires a rethink of an organisation’s cultural touchstones. A purposeful leadership team has the power to shift company culture, providing everyone with an incentive to improve DE&I. Accountability is a key part of progress; making DE&I part of the executive agenda elevates it to a business imperative. Transparency will also help to expose inequalities and erode unfair practices, simply by exposing them to scrutiny. For organisations committed to change, it can be a good place to start.
The scale and scope of DE&I issues can make building effective learning and development (L&D) programmes can feel like an impossible task. For DE&I to be embraced as part of a company-wide L&D policy, it should be seen not as a separate silo but as a core part of an organisation’s evidence-based, best-practice competency. It’s not a one-and-done action in a virtue-signalling tickbox. To be truly effective, DE&I L&D must be rooted in reality, embracing a variety of delivery methods and tailored to individual learning styles.
The long haul
Authenticity is crucial. Those organisations that commit to change as part of a company-wide approach to boosting fairness and equity are most likely to enjoy genuinely sustainable outcomes, including closer relationships with consumers, suppliers and colleagues. The greatest long-term benefits are born not from opportunism but from a deep commitment to reform.
The rewards are legion. Companies that are genuinely invested in DE&I will have the tools to create high-performance teams in workplaces that not only attract the best and brightest talent but that give them the sense of belonging they need to stay, grow and lead their organisations to even greater successes.