How to design a diversity strategy in 5 easy steps

Insights from the CEO of Actus Software, Lucinda Carney and William T. Rolack, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Workforce Logiq

September is Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) month for us here at Actus. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to educate myself on this topic because it is something that I feel I know relatively little about. I believe absolutely in being inclusive of others across the board, but professionally I had very little experience in this area. The organisations I worked for tended to be predominantly white males and in fact, I remember being told I was one of only two female senior managers within a 2,000 person strong organisation only fifteen years ago. There were very few people from diverse backgrounds in that organisation at that time and unsurprisingly there were definitely no gender-neutral toilets or even areas for practising your own religion as I recall. This isn’t to say that that organisation was any different from any other in the early 2000s and I was unaware of any overt discrimination. I make this point merely to share the fact that how to practise active inclusivity is a topic that many of us welcome guidance on. You will notice that on the HR Uprising podcast throughout September we cover the topic of diversity and inclusion in a number of ways.

This blog, how to design a diversity strategy, was inspired by the conversation I had with William T. Rolack who is the VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Workforce Logiq. He has headed up various D&I functions over the last 16 years and prior to that was in HR, so is uniquely placed to advise on this topic. I would like to credit him for many of the points outlined below, you can also hear the podcast itself via the HR Uprising website.

So I was interested in what I would need to do if I was to be developing a diversity and inclusion strategy within an organisation and William gave me five steps to focus on which I found really helpful.

1. Workplace Culture
2. Workforce data/demographics
3. Social Responsibility
4. Brand and marketplace
5. Inclusive leadership

Read on to find out what I learnt about setting up a D&I strategy.

1. Workplace Culture

So, this is looking for the evidence and understanding what kind of culture you’ve got at the moment. is it really inclusive? Warning signs might be grievances or sickness absence, particularly if they are increased in certain demographics. My experience has been that often cultures that may be considered to be more traditional or hierarchical that have quite a lot of ‘banter’ are actually not terribly inclusive. Banter is usually about in-group/out-group jokes and can often be construed as microaggressions for certain demographics. Does that mean we can’t have humour in the workplace – no definitely not, but are people aware of the potential impact of their words, in fact, does it need to be at the expense of others at all?

2. Workforce data/demographics

What does your data tell you? I appreciate not all of us have data that is easily available but are you recruiting, developing, rewarding, promoting or losing talent disproportionately to what is available in the marketplace. This isn’t as blunt as having 50/50 female to male python coders if the available talent in the marketplace is more like 20/80 but if you have proportions below the market benchmark at any point through the talent lifecycle then this is an indication that you could do more.

3. Social responsibilityActus Academy E-Learning for Hybrid Managers

So the last two points are really about understanding the position as it is currently within your organisation and the next two points are about things you can do to develop the inclusivity of your culture. When William described social responsibility as being one of the pillars I was a bit surprised and I needed him to explain why so. This is largely because I see that lots of CSR initiatives are often what people pay lip service to. However, William was explaining that the key really is about contribution in a meaningful way not tokenism and involving your workforce in that contribution. So it’s absolutely marvellous if you can recruit from underprivileged demographics and develop them but not every organisation can do that However giving people the opportunity to contribute on behalf of their employer Is beneficial in three ways as I understand it. First of all, it is going to increase employee engagement as we all want to feel a sense of purpose and enabling people to contribute to others on work time is likely to benefit the organisation in terms of goodwill and discretionary effort. Secondly, putting back is a great way of ‘paying it forward’ ultimately if we all did this, we will end up benefiting indirectly as a society. Finally, this leads into the fourth point of Employer Brand in the marketplace. If we take our social responsibility seriously and don’t just treat it as lip service, then we will attract more talent and win more bids, again there are other benefits to be had.

4. Brand and marketplace

So this is building on the point above and is about putting our stand out in the marketplace and ensuring that we are clearly branding ourselves as inclusive employers. This is increasingly important to the millennials coming into the workplace and of course, since Covid, inclusivity is more than gender, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. The ability to work flexibly can also be seen as a measure of inclusivity currently and it seems likely to be here to stay. Being on the front foot and ensuring that your organisation is actively inclusive in all areas is more than branding though, as it makes us way more likely to gain access to all the talent available in the marketplace. It is also more likely to offer protection from ‘The great resignation’.

5. Inclusive leadership

When William explained this point he expressed the fact that many organisations do the top four and overlook inclusive leadership. I thought that was fascinating because it is really an area where inclusivity and managing remote/hybrid workers converge. Over the last 18 months, we’ve been talking about being employee-centric to focus on the needs of the individual wherever they are located and ultimately this is about being inclusive. This also links right back to culture because our leaders set the culture and if they are inclusive across every area of diversity including location then it is going to enable people to bring their whole selves to work. This has to result in greater productivity, engagement, innovation and satisfaction. However in order to get to this point, we need to ensure that our leaders have high levels of self-awareness in this area, they need to be alert to unconscious bias in themselves or their teams and have an attitude of zero tolerance for discrimination. So they need to have empathy and strength of character as well as the communication skills and courage to address any issues upfront.

I felt that these five points were really helpful and underpin William’s idea of Diversity being a philosophy not a policy. For more on this topic, why not take a look at our other blog: 7 ways to support diversity in your organisation.

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