Drawing on both current research and his experience, Dan Roberts gives his top ten tips for building and implementing a successful D&I strategy.

December 10, 2014

I recently facilitated a WebEx on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) for a global client within the insurance industry. The audience for this WebEx consisted of a range of internal stakeholders from across the business’s support functions including, HR, Talent Acquisition, Talent Development, D&I and other such functions. Additionally the audience represented a number of stakeholders from across various geographical regions within which the business operates. Like many global businesses today, the D&I strategy has been set and has leadership endorsement at the global level: what this programme was designed to do was to assist with the implementation of the strategy at the local level. 

When developing a success D&I strategy, there are a number of component parts that any global business or local organisation needs to take into account if it is to be successful. That is if the business is going to turn the commitment and any strategic objectives into a meaningful implementation plan. 

Drawing on both current research and on my experience of supporting a wide range of different organisatons in this space for over a decade now, here are my top ten tips for building and implementing a successful D&I strategy.

Step 1: Laying the Foundations 

1. D&I: Know the difference: The first principle of building any D&I strategy is to know the difference between the ‘D’ and the ‘I’! Put simply, a diversity strategy is simply about increasing the levels of difference within an organization. This difference could be based on visible characteristics including, gender, ethnicity and cultural background or perhaps age. It could – and indeed should – include also a wide range of non-visible differences including religion, social background, sexual orientation, personality, thinking styles and ways of working. Whilst having good intentions, on its own, this ‘managing diversity’ approach with its emphasis on increasing the levels of diverse talent which helps businesses to avoid Group Think and to provide insight into diverse customers and stakeholders falls into what Laura Liswood in The Loudest Duck, calls a ‘Noah’s Ark’ approach. That is, solely focusing on increasing the numbers of women, gay people, disabled workers and talent from culturally diverse backgrounds will do little to challenge existing cultural norms and unconscious biases that play such a critical role in talent retention and develop. Thus for any ‘D’&‘I’ strategy to have real meaning and impact a focus on inclusiveness through changing existing business cultures and way of thinking and behaving is key.

2. Create a well-defined business case: As with all business strategies, the case for investment is critically important. D&I is no exception. In a 2013 paper entitled Why Diversity Matters, Catalysts, the non-for-profit gender equality organisation set out four key pillars that make up a D&I business case. These are: 

  • Improving financial performance: Research undertaken by Mckinsey (2012) found that companies with diverse top teams exceeded others by 56% in operating results and achieved 53% higher returns on equity. Forbes examined the stock performance of the 26 publicly traded companies headed by women. These companies out-performed their industries by 15 per cent and the overall market by 28 per cent.
  • Leveraging talent: A number of studies have shown that businesses that create a culture of inclusion significantly increase the ‘psychological contract’ which in turn impacts positively on organisational turnover, employee satisfaction from minority groups and an increase in employee engagement and productivity.
  • Reflect the marketplace and build your reputation: Studies have shown that companies with greater levels of diversity are less likely to commit corporate fraud but greater diversity equates to higher levels of corporate social responsibility.
  • Increase innovation and group performance: Research by Scott E. Page has shown that business innovation depends less on IQ and more on diverse people working together. Numerous other studies have shown that diverse teams working on complex problems outperform homogeneous teams.

Ensure that you define your own business case for D&I and communicate this with your business stakeholders. This many vary depending on the local region.

3. Create a baseline or starting point: The foundations of any successful D&I strategy has to be supported by the establishment of a baseline analysis of current talent pools. Using workforce monitoring information the creation of workforce profiles by business unit or department based on factors such as gender and cultural background assists with identify any significant gaps compared to local demographics and industry averages. This baseline of information should then be used to establish a set of diversity and inclusion KPIs including diversity targets.

Step 2: Setting your Diversity and Inclusion Objectives

4. What gets measured gets done: Just like with any other business strategy, it’s important to establish a set of D&I KPIs. These should be smart, aligned to key business priorities and talent programs and sit with clear lines of accountability. Within this approach businesses should consider introducing D&I smart targets aimed at addressing under-representation of diverse talent pools at all levels within the business, as identified within the talent profiling exercise. 

5. Engage with your diverse talent pools: When setting D&I objectives it’s important to engage with a variety of key business stakeholders. Many businesses have employee network groups for women, gay, lesbian and bisexual employees and for employees from culturally diverse backgrounds. Critical questions to ask your-self include, to what extent have we engaged with these employee populations when setting our D&I objectives, goals and targets? How have we ensured our diverse employee groups feel a sense of ownership of our D&I strategy? It’s important to engage with these groups early in the process as they will become key stakeholders and advocates for the strategy within the implementation stage. 

Another way of engaging with your diverse employees is through your employee engagement surveys. Ensure that these surveys ask specific questions covering inclusion at work issues and that information and data from the survey can be analysed by specific diversity group, by region, by department and by employee grade. 

Step 3: Implementing your D&I objectives 

6. Educate your workforce: It is important to ensure that you have a workforce that is aware of your D&I strategy. Raise awareness by utilising internal communication channels: Town Hall talks, leadership blogs, magazines, working groups and other such forums. Enhance the power of your D&I networks to communicate your D&I strategy. As well highlighting the strategy itself a second level of education is needed to address issues of unconscious bias within decision-making processes. Consider providing specific programmes on unconscious bias for a range of decision-makers including, Executive Team members, HR teams, hiring managers, assessors, line managers, those working in marketing and branding and those working directly with customers. 

7. Change doesn't happen by itself. Take Positive Action Measures: When seeking to increase the levels of diversity within your business consider using Positive Action measures. Not to be confused with Positive Discrimination, Positive Action is a legal mechanism which allows businesses to take targeted action for the purpose of addressing under-representation in key business areas. Ask yourself: Do you actively target under-represented groups as part of your graduate recruitment rounds? In talent resourcing and attraction, how do you ensure your adverts are distributed across a wide range of media outlets? Do you use minority press to help you attract the best talent? Do you stress the importance of having a diverse pool of candidates on your shortlists to recruitment agencies and headhunters? How do you hold your agencies to account? To what extent do you offer specific career development programmes for women, and other minority or under-represented groups? Do you have in place effective career mentoring initiatives and sponsorship schemes? These programmes should be aligned to agreed D&I KPIs within your strategy.

8. Review your working practices: Whilst many organisations have formal policy arrangements in place such as flexible or agile working programmes the implementation and positive impact of these is often muted due to a management mindset that has a preference for presentisms over flexibility. This collective mindset can have a negative impact on your talent retention schemes and on the career development of women and minority employees. To counter this mindset it is critical that businesses monitor for this type of bias and put into place counter strategies when such biases are detected.

9. Engage your suppliers: Supplier diverse is a critical component of any D&I strategy. Talk to your suppliers about the importance of D&I to your business. Ask them what policies and programmes they have in place to promote diverse talent pools and an inclusive working environment. Monitor their outcomes and hold them to account when they are not meeting their stated commitments.

10. Monitor and evaluate outcomes: This is possibly one of the most critical elements which could define the success of your D&I strategy. Once the formation of the strategy has been agreed and signed off what structures will you put into place to ensure agreed actions, goals and targets are being delivered against in the implementation stage?

By using these 10 tip tops as a framework you too can ensure that your D&I strategy is successfully implemented in ways which meets both global and local needs. Good luck!

Dan Robertson is the Diversity & Inclusion Director at the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion, (www.enei.org.uk). He is highly respected as a subject matter expert on workplace diversity & inclusion management, unconscious bias and inclusive leadership. Connect on LinkedIn: Dan Robertson or Twitter: @dan_robertson1 or email: [email protected]