17 Jan How to support diversity and inclusion managers in 2020
When considering how to implement diversity and inclusion in the workplace, many organisations will appoint diversity and inclusion managers, diversity and inclusion consultants and/or include formal diversity and inclusion objectives within the remit of a senior HR/people director. However without the right supporting infrastructure in place, such an approach is doomed from the outset.
I have the privilege of regularly meeting with individuals who have formal responsibility for equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within their organisations. It’s amazing how many of these key staff have indicated that they don’t feel supported or listened to within their companies.
In order to make significant EDI progress in 2020, we recommend 3 simple steps (3 E’s) to help organisations support their diversity and inclusion managers:
1. Empower Your Diversity Managers
It’s well documented, it’s also somewhat common sense, that empowered staff contribute more to organisations than staff that don’t feel empowered and free to add value. A study by the Harvard Business Review into workplace psychology, demonstrates that empowering employees can boost motivation and creativity, whilst a study by Deloitte into millennials in the workplace demonstrates that millennials believe that their employer should provide accelerated development opportunities for them.
In the context of EDI, there is often a lack of respect attributed to EDI professionals, which manifests in a general dismissal of most initiatives or recommendations that do not resemble some form of ‘unconscious bias training’. EDI teams need to be given the same respect and standing as other technical roles within organisations. A McKinsey article about the changing functions of finance departments provides a useful framework to apply to EDI. Within many companies, EDI activities are in a state of crisis, thus significant structural changes are needed to ensure companies are able to cope with what is set to be an interesting few years. Diversity and inclusion managers are a key aspect of defining and implementing an organisation’s equality, diversity and inclusion approach.
2. Equip Your Diversity Managers
I’m frequently alarmed to learn that equality, diversity and inclusion professionals at organisations with several thousand people are often left to manage the activities of these organisations with few or no support staff and an insignificant budget. Leaders of the same organisation are then quite demanding in their expectations of equality, diversity and inclusion progress – leading to frustration from both sides.
Where EDI is concerned, reasonable ambitions should be matched by reasonable budgets and support staff, where relevant. If organisations truly understand the business case for improved diversity and inclusion, this understanding should be reflected in a clear and appropriate budget. Research shows that a more inclusive / bottom-up approach to budget setting can be more accurate and can have positive impacts on staff motivation.
3. Engage with Your Diversity Managers
Often EDI personnel aren’t involved in strategic conversations about the future of the organisation, which speaks volumes about how leaders view equality, diversity and inclusion. Far too often EDI personnel are resigned to organising ‘awareness campaigns’, ‘(inter)national days/weeks/months in support of specific demographic groups’ and other such marketing / event focused activities. In order to truly make measurable and sustainable progress, EDI personnel need to be invited to engage on a more strategic level. Defining overall EDI aims and objectives and ensuring that EDI underpins all strategic initiatives – thus ensuring success on all fronts.
Where the benefits of employee engagement are well documented, I’m often told by EDI staff that they’re not engaged on a consistent basis – typically being asked by superiors to provide reports and commentary on issues. Frequent engagement would ensure that EDI functions within organisations were more collaborative in their process and outcomes. EDI initiatives that are co-designed and co-delivered are infinitely more effective than those developed and delivered in a top-down manner.
As a business leader, if you perceive that your EDI personnel don’t seem to stick around very long and/or have little impact on how your organisation runs, it’s worthwhile taking a look at how the function operates in the context of wider leadership. EDI professionals often get a bad rap and are wrongly labelled as kill-joys, the PC (political correctness) police or a manifestation of ‘HR policies gone mad’. None of these are true, for the most part. More often than not, EDI professionals are empathetic and emotionally intelligent and should be given more of a strategically important leadership role.