The coronavirus pandemic has forced companies around the world to adapt to new ways of working and cut back on anything seen as non-essential business spending in a bid to survive in the challenging ‘new normal’ that will be with us for some time.
The beginning of the lockdown saw many diversity and inclusion (D&I) leaders fall into the ‘non-essential’ category and laid off. But the Black Lives Matter movement has ensured D&I is now firmly back on the risk register – where it always should have been – for business leaders everywhere.
There is now a clamour for D&I expertise – but it needs to be a clamour with a plan. So, what steps can organizations take to rise to the challenge?
A common misconception is that quotas are the answer. At the moment the focus is largely on race – which is as it should be – but we’ve still got issues with nearly every other diversity group, some of which have had far more focus than race for far longer. It’s time we recognized that all the quotas in the world are going to make no difference at all if the toxicity that is reigning in our organizations is allowed to continue.
Training is not the answer either – at least not on its own. For it to make a difference, leaders need to be pulling the major levers that should sit behind training initiatives.
So, if quotas and training alone can’t be relied on to steer a safe course for us through the diversity dilemma, what steps should companies be taking to position themselves as true, world-class D&I leaders?
No. 1: It is high time leaders stopped being protected from the harsh realities by people toning down messages that they need to hear now more than ever. Frank, no-holds-barred conversations are required to ensure everyone understands that D&I is a strategic issue.
No. 2: Quotas are important – but only if you already have an inclusive culture. Norway, for example, is often held up as an example of where gender quotas have worked. But there are many other instances of where gender or racial quotas have not made a difference. Quotas on their own are not enough.
No. 3: Get procurement involved now. If you demand equity in your supply chain, you have to create it yourself. As a vendor to anyone right now, your organization is vulnerable to a procurement policy that forces you to demonstrate inclusion. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
No. 4: Ensure your C-suite colleagues understand that diversity is a business issue – and, right now, a business risk. The senior team should be backing the CEO to ensure we have no more false starts and window dressing.
No. 5: Creating inclusion should be part of any performance review. It’s not that hard. Just ask every people manager in your organization: “What have you done to drive inclusion and what evidence do you have?” What is hard is weighting this – and rewarding for it.
No. 6: Measure activity and action in individuals – but help them to act. A ‘one-and-done’ training session, however good, is not enough. Inclusion is a 21st century leadership skill – yet we still devote millions more dollars to management training than we spend on inclusion, equity, or diversity. The C-suite needs to hold the hand of people leaders and help them for a period of time to change things.
No. 7: Have a serious plan – a strategic D&I plan that flows for 3-5 years is needed for most organizations. It should be as robust as any profit and loss plan – and be both invested in and held to account.
No. 8: It’s time for leaders to be more humble – and prepared to be vulnerable. In short, if leaders don’t believe they are part of the problem, nothing will really change. Standing in our vulnerability and digging into our own biases and values is critical.
No. 9: Make the business case mean something. Don’t resort to the standard phrases that crop up time and again in D&I drives – like ‘innovation’ (what, when, why?) or ‘better decision making’ (for which problem?). ‘Bigger pool of talent’ is another popular phrase – true, but what is the talent you need to find, and how?
No. 10: The moral issues are important, but they have to resonate with everyone. Create an inclusive culture so that everyone in your organization who wants to succeed can do so. Dig a little deeper rather than just saying you want to support a gender equality initiative because you have a daughter. Educate yourself a little further. Be aware and explore what broader take on diversity sits with who you are as a leader today. Not who your parents were, not what your school taught you – what you stand for.