Diversity and inclusion from the top down

Diversity and inclusion needs to be set from the top but be embedded in every area of an organisation, backed by cultural competence training, data analytics and outcomes-based rewards.

Ethnic Pay Gap


Last week talent solutions firm AMS held a webinar on diversity, equity and inclusion at C Suite level which turned out to be a really interesting discussion of how to effect lasting change.

Firstly, diversity must be seen at every level of an organisation. It’s not enough to have more women or ethnic minorities etc at lower levels. Diversity must be set from the top, from the board down. What’s more, it’s not enough to have diversity in functional roles such as HR and communications where, for instance, women tend to congregate – diversity in operational roles tends to be more of a challenge, but one that must be tackled.

There has been a lot of media attention on diversity and inclusion in the last years, both positive and negative, from BlackLivesMatter, MeToo and gender pay to anti-woke campaigns, but a lot of the response has been about showing rather than doing. The focus needs to be on real, actionable outcomes rather than initiatives that are part of ongoing work that is being done all the time, even – or especially – when no-one is watching, and it is vital to get some sort of critical mass. Data analytics can be used to back up DEI policies with an awareness that figures can be distorted, for instance, percentage increases can make it look like you are doing a lot when it might be from a very small initial numbers – one woman on the board after none can look like more impactful than it actually is. HR people need to be aware too of what is not on the page of statistics and updates.

Another issue is rewarding leaders for attaining DEI targets. While it can be hard to pinpoint what any one individual director has done,  making meeting targets part of any bonus shows that it is central to any business.

Then there are the broader points to any DEI strategy – training line managers and making sure they understand the strategy and how they can implement it and promoting cultural competence which addresses micro-aggressions and everyday prejudice.

And because jobseekers are more sophisticated in how they tackle DEI, looking at a company’s leadership and directly contacting people who look like them about their experience in the company, organisations must do more to communicate what they are doing externally in the form of storytelling – telling the stories of their employees and their organisation. My daughter, aged eight, was already onto this when she was looking at other schools in her area as a result of racist bullying. I found her not only looking at pictures of all the senior teaching staff online, but seeking out their policies on bullying and anti-racism.

Other points that came out of the webinar included getting employee network groups to be more intersectional. Speakers warned that these could become quite siloed unless there was intentional work on intersectionality. They suggested inclusion circles as one way forward. There was also a discussion about the need to embed DEI rather than just seeing it in terms of, say, annual events or a series of initiatives. If it is just an initiative rather than part of ‘the way we do things’ it is more likely to get cut. Listening and sacrificing comfort – being willing to have your views changed through taking the time to listen to people’s stories – is also vital as is being intentional about who is promoted and what their values are when it comes to diversity and inclusion – ie are they likely to hold women or others back – alongside leaders using their social capital to help those without the networks and connections to progress.

There were a lot of useful suggestions and things to think about. The key issue is to look at outcomes, bearing in mind that change can take time, and to get feedback from those affected about whether they see movement forwards. Statistics like those from the gender pay audits can be useful, but if only taken at surface level they don’t tell the whole story. It’s what you do with them that matters.

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