Overcoming the Barriers: Practical Diversity and Inclusion

Despite the best of intentions, organisations all too often don’t realise the full benefits of their investment in becoming a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

This was the collective opinion of the D&I thought leaders at Capita’s recent workshop, including Jemima Jefferson, Alison McDermott, Neil Cockroft, Kirstie Kelly and Fiona Morden.

What we often find when we meet with a new client is that they’re facing one or more of these barriers:

  • D&I is viewed solely as a compliance issue. Such that action is undertaken in silos and not part of a wider D&I remit. The response is a range of disconnected activities.
  • D&I is regarded mainly as a gender issue, with the focus on “improving” women rather than addressing root causes of gender imbalance that stem from organisational culture, and which must be addressed if progress and improvement is to be sustainable.

Employees may misunderstand the concept and therefore the need to broaden their view towards the benefits of D&I, and their role in building a diverse and inclusive culture.

  • A lack of consistent leadership commitment and accountability: some leaders engaged; others much less so; many fail to convert good intent into meaningful action
  • Subtle obstacles to equitable career progression (both structural and cultural) where the impact of unconscious bias on decision making goes unnoticed and unaddressed by leaders
  • Where strengthening policies and processes is seen as the whole solution, but this will only deliver limited improvements in D&I

If this sounds like your business, you have much in common with many organisations we meet.

Momentum for Change

According to McKinsey’s Lessons from the leading edge, the best diversity and inclusion practices…

  • put culture and values are at the core
  • ensure improvements are made systematically
  • have boards and executives that spark movement
  • and interestingly; make diversity personal

All of this resonated with our group, who have seen enthusiasm for diversity and inclusion initiatives wane when they’re not part of a broader and more cohesive approach to cultural transformation.

Transformative Practices

So how can you begin effecting that organisational transformation? Move from process-led change to an all-encompassing culture shift?

Here are some of the most effective transformative practices we put into play:

1. Get the top person excited: In her work, Fiona Morden says her first milestone is when she’s able to help leaders to the point where they ask “how” they should address D&I, not “why.”

“The journey from compliance to commercial benefit starts with understanding the risks and commercial implications of doing nothing, as well as the positives of taking action. This might be showing leaders examples of bias in the workplace, or demonstrating their organisation’s status in comparison to competitors.”

2. Switching perspectives: once leaders are on board with the “why,” it’s time to bare all about the current culture. Jemima Jefferson talked about embarking on the journey towards a more inclusive culture:

“Sessions where leaders are faced with the realities in their business can kickstart the transformation process by revealing the micro-inequities that affect progress in the business, and by addressing ‘invisible’ issues like benevolent bias.”

3. Communications are transformative. Kirstie Kelly talked about the benefits of “being specific about elements of the EVP from the outset. That includes communications to broad external audiences — those who may one day enter the selection process.”

4. Process and culture: Neil Cockroft highlighted the importance of process and culture being addressed handin hand through a mix of hard and soft activities (and measures). This includes, for example, ensuring diverse selection pools (process) as well as training recruiting managers on the value of diverse talent pools (culture).

5. Metrics are key to the transformation process. Measures and goals help you to talk in the language of business leaders. An analytics process that models the current and future desired state of D&I in an organisation is incredibly powerful, as I see daily in my client work.

I strongly believe that diversity without inclusion offers limited results.

The most inclusive workplaces are those where people are clear on the reasons for becoming a more diverse and inclusive organisation, and they choose to be part of the culture change – McKinsey’s Four Building Blocks of Change articulate the rationale for a change in mind-set through a simple visual.

Culture change means shifting attitudes, values and behaviours so that natural actions achieve the desired results, not only modifying actions that then require conscious maintenance (see Jonathan Streeton’s post on change versus transformation).

Tactical, practice-orientated interventions (such as gender targeted initiatives, for example) have the potential to kickstart or reinvigorate change efforts. However, real transformational and sustainable D&I can only happen when the organisational mindset and leadership behaviour evolve to be genuinely inclusive.

If you would like to learn more about diverse talent acquisition, join us at The FiRM’s spring conference for Capita’s presentation, “From Talk to Walk.”

Harver Team

Harver Team

Updated on:
May 9, 2023

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