Turning diversity conversations into reality

Too many D&I conversations end with a shrug of the shoulders and a “yes, we should be doing better, shouldn’t we?” Our Leaders Forum geared focus to the reality of what can be changed and how to do it.

In early October, Connor facilitated an HR leaders forum that focused on:

  • leveraging diversity and inclusion (D&I) insights
  • enabling organisations to create a platform for cultural change that reaches beyond universal gender conversations.

1. Start monitoring the situation

Numbers are hard to ignore, much as many company boards might like to. While HR directors are the initial “owners” of the diversity conversation, the act of producing D&I reports (hard as that might be when HR doesn’t “talk” to payroll) cannot help but prompt leaders to take notice. There was a shared feeling of loneliness in compiling these numbers for the first time, but a sense of future optimism in embracing the springboard for change that they present.

Connor have worked on a strong number of D&I projects recently. Our overwhelming experience is that once an organisation understands their situation, they’re able to adapt processes accordingly – that in turn is the catalyst to drive behavioural change.

The key is to first establish reports to monitor the situation, and then champion initiatives that make an immediate difference.

2. Activities which made a tangible difference

The participants agreed on the impact of addressing core issues within recruitment and development activity. Gender-neutral job descriptions and nameless CVs are simple yet effective signs that an organisation values diversity. Flexible training programmes should accommodate working parents (not only mums) rather than week-long residentials in inconvenient locations.

Offering flexible working was discussed as a key differentiating factor, but this was not just a gender-specific issue. The introduction of “inclusion champions” at a senior level gave a focal point for changes and kept the conversation in front of board members.

3. Road map to D&I behaviour change

HR leaders realise that trust and psychological safety are a critical part of encouraging a fruitful diversity discussion, but education of the wider management in areas such as unconscious bias is critical before such an environment can truly be created.

Transparency is vital. It is about time that D&I issues were normalised as potential “work problems” that can be discussed with a boss that has an open mind, so that neither party feels uncomfortable. It is the job of every leader to find solutions to these problems and ensure behaviours shift to avoid reoccurrences. If diversity initiatives do not result in long-term behavioural change then they are worthless.

4. How to achieve a universality of diversity

Part of the problem arguably lies in the fact that diversity conversations are often polarised in a male / female dynamic. Forum participants highlighted the mounting opportunity to make our workplaces equal for all, regardless of “reason.” When a diversity initiative has a broader target, it invigorates more people to get involved.

It was unanimously agreed everyone in the workplace would benefit from a broad focus on improving diversity – regardless of gender, seniority or background. When conversations revolve around “us” rather than the typical conflict inherent within gender politics, organisations are able to create an atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance.

Everyone deserves a fair chance to bring their best selves to the workplace, and when every imaginable playing field is as level as possible, then diversity conversations will fade into needlessness. We are a long way from that point, but we have to keep striving to get there.

Turning diversity conversations into reality starts with a pause for thought.

Fundamentally, whilst quick win initiatives can gain some momentum around the diversity and inclusion agenda, you ultimately need to develop a culture which embraces difference and leaders who are able to lead people, regardless of their background. To find out more on this click here


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