How to get diversity and inclusion on your company’s agenda
If you’re reading this, chances are, you’re frustrated and you want to see change. Good. I’m hoping there are at least a few ideas here that might empower you to realise that change. And if you’re a business owner yet to consider what role diversity and inclusion play in your strategy, consider this a shot across the bow.
With Inclusive Employers Limited running their National Inclusive Week initiative and their ‘Each One, Reach One’ campaign right now, this article felt timely. Without simply rehashing the multitude of articles out there, I wanted to find a way to shine a light on both their inclusive campaign, and also to help move diversity and inclusion up the agenda at more companies.
So, how do you get diversity and inclusion on the agenda and keep it there?
Whilst the ethical arguments for pursuing diversity, inclusion and equality within any organisation are abundantly clear, the commercial arguments often seem obfuscated. If you want diversity on the agenda, you’ve got to make commercial sense. Even in the age of the rising B-Corp, most new businesses are established with profit as their primary, and sometimes only goal, so you’ve got to tie diversity, inclusion and equality to the bottom line.
Fortunately then, there are a wealth of pretty conclusive studies on the links between profitability and diversity. From the Mckinsey 2015 and 2017 reports, to the Peterson Institute for International Economics 2016 study, and a host of other independent research agency studies, you won’t have any trouble finding a strong argument to place diversity and inclusion at the center of any respectable corporate strategy. Equally, the pressure is on from a governance angle, with the 2018 revisions to the UK Corporate governance code bringing renewed vigor to section 172 of the company’s act 2006, highlighting diversity (as well as sustainability) as a focus area deserving of renewed directorial diligence.
Even so, despite both the carrot and the stick, it seems too many companies continue to pay lip service. Not that I’m honing in on gender, ethnic or other form of diversity (indeed, I think to do so misses the point), but as of today, almost 70% of FTSE 250 companies don’t have a single non-white director. So, how can you ensure that your company goes beyond tokenism when it comes to diversity, equality and inclusion?
If you want the board to pay attention and take your argument seriously, you’ll need to be concise and relevant. You need to be fully aware of your company’s strategy, assuming they have one clearly expressed. With that in mind, there are four commonly cited positive impacts of diversity and inclusion on a business, and you need to decide which one of them resonates most powerfully in your organisation? Improved talent pipeline; improved customer orientation; employee satisfaction; or better decision making. Picking any one of these doesn’t mean that the others are forgotten, but constructing a powerful, focused argument that resonates with the board will help to put diversity and inclusion on the agenda, where it can flourish and grow. Does the business’s strategy talk to ‘customer first’ principles — then focus on improved customer orientation. Is the strategy focused on securing and keeping the best talent? Then focus on the value of an improved talent pipeline; attracting, developing, mentoring, sponsoring and retaining a better team. Is it a strategy that focuses on placing the satisfaction of the employees first? Then orient your facts, figures and goals around employee engagement. Finally, does it talk to innovation and pace? Then talk to improved decision making and brainstorming abilities.
With your starting position now set, and assuming you’re starting from scratch, you need to establish the strongest possible foundation. That means facts and figures. Both of your current reality (situation analysis), and the potential impact on profit (ROI). Once you’ve put forward external data and surveys that highlight the potential benefit, they need to put in financial terms for your business. What is the potential upswing commercially over the next 3, 5 or 10 years? This requires a leap of faith or two because some big assumptions will need to be made, but it’s better to put forward a model, than no model at all. You need to offer an objective impact, expressed ultimately in pounds and pence / dollars and cents. And here’s the rub with any ethically associated initiative. No one wants to be seen to question it, so everyone will nod, but do you really have buy-in? You’ll need to uncover the nay-sayers and work with them to bring them round to your way of thinking. Leave things unsaid and a year down the line you’ll find you don’t have the support you need, because they never believed in the commercial argument in the first place, but just weren’t willing to say so at the time.
Hopefully now, you’ve got peoples’ attention. You’ve shown that it’s had an impact on profit elsewhere. You’ve sized the prize internally, and related the initiative to the existing company strategy. You’ve created ambitious yet realistic targets and described the journey between the two. Now comes the point where you make it all real.
If they buy into the opportunity, then there also needs to be a real budget. There needs to be an investment in time and money, and it needs to be real. If the return and investment don’t balance, then take two steps back — people aren’t bought in. Too often, diversity and inclusion committees are made up of people for whom the role is not even formally recognised as part of their job. As if they are expected to pour in energy and passion in their spare time, and execute plans on a shoe-string budget. Of course, that’s usually because it is often the case — good people want to do good, and are willing to put forward discretionary effort to make it happen — but it’s not sustainable. The role should be explicit, the time and personnel requirements clear, and the budget appropriate for the task in hand.
Like any successful initiative, reporting against agreed metrics needs to find its way into business as usual. Whether it’s a regular spot at the all hands, integration into appraisals and reviews, or a section within any formal reporting, it needs to have equal footing with any other strategic endeavour of the business. Does the business have a balanced scorecard for monitoring progress? Then diversity and inclusion needs to be on there, and reported in equal measure.
Finally, get it in print! Your business is likely to have some kind of formal expression of the current state of play, such as annual and mid-term reports. It must if it’s public. Corporate Social Responsibility should be reported on with the same objectivity and data-orientation as reporting on revenue and profit. Once you’ve got the targets and current reality printed and shared with the outside world, the chances of everyone feeling the weight of responsibility to deliver are that much higher.
And I guess that’s it. A tall order then, and I accept that what I describe above is ambitious and assumes that you can secure the mindspace of the board to set these things in motion. Well, nothing truly worth doing is ever easy.
And one final word of warning. I’ve not talked about defining diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace. How they differ, or how they relate. There’s a wealth of information out there for you to get clued up before you embark on this journey. However, one fact renders all of the above completely pointless. Research has highlighted that diversity alone doesn’t guarantee a better performing company; rather, it is the culture of the company, and most notably the culture of the board, that affects how much diversity can have a positive commercial impact. If there isn’t a culture of inclusion and equality, diversity becomes irrelevant. Research focuses on diversity because it is more tangible. You can assess it precisely. Whether people feel included and treated equally is far harder to measure, but ultimately the most important thing.
So, that rather nicely brings us round to the cultural endeavours that are really going to make a difference, and probably bring about a more diverse team without the quotas and initiatives — that’s why ‘each one, reach one’ really matters.