Director, Courageous Inclusion
Most organisations we work with have a desire to improve diversity and inclusion (D&I) across the business. However, it is such a complex and challenging issue to address our clients often don't know where to start. Here are a few simple ways to take the steps forward needed to develop towards an inclusive organisation.
1) Focus on inclusion
Often organisations, particularly smaller ones can dismiss working on D&I because they think they are too small to have any diversity or it's just too hard to tackle. While it is essential to redress the balance on structural discrimination and focus on goals such as increasing the representation of people with any of these attributes at the top or equalising pay, it is also hugely important to make the most of the diversity you already have.
The lack of inclusion in society means that organisations are likely to have lots of untapped potential in their organisations already. This potential is locked away in people who are increasingly frustrated because, for reasons which are often unclear, their ideas and expertise go unheard.
By using our definition of Courageous Inclusion, you can begin by working towards creating an inclusive culture which will make the most of the people you already have and then go on to increase your diversity because people who are ‘different’ will want to work for you!
Courageous inclusion is: The whole-hearted act of sensing, inquiring, disclosing and learning in service of integrating the similarities and differences of a group of people; To incorporate everyone's contributions into conversations, idea generation and decision making to improve organisational outcomes. These differences may include aspects of identity such as sex, gender identity, age, disability, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation. However, they should also take into account personality, performance strengths, professional expertise and experience." (France2019)
2) Identify your starting point
Working on D&I can be daunting, often it isn't a priority, and there may never have been any D&I initiatives. Also, it usually means ‘facing up to' the amount of work which may be needed. A problematic prospect as everyone, particularly senior leaders, want to believe their organisation is the best!
Fortunately, Deloitte has outlined four stages of inclusive cultures which I find useful to help organisations consider where they are now, and most importantly, how to focus their efforts on the next achievable step towards improvement.
For more information, go to https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/deloitte-review/issue-22/diversity-and-inclusion-at-work-eight-powerful-truths.html.
3) Where is there energy for D&I?
Alongside the Deloitte model, looking for the energy around D&I, which is already in the business is a good starting point. Often it manifests in different ways across the organisation. Top teams can be concerned about the (gender) pay gap, women in the board room and feedback from employee survey results. HR related and performance management challenges can impact middle managers. Within employee groups, there are often passionate individuals, keen to improve experiences for themselves and others in the same situation.
Wherever energy is currently showing up, begin with working with the people in the business who want to make improvements around their specific goals. Any initiative like this already benefits from the support, energy and focus of some of the organisation. Also, changes in any area will inevitably spark interest and change elsewhere.
4) Use an Organisation Development, systems approach
Any work on D&I is likely to be more complicated than initially apparent. Also, as I mentioned, change based on one focus is likely to spark change elsewhere, how this happens is often unpredictable. Therefore, it is good to start with one initiative, observe its impact, and then plan for the next, keeping the whole organisation in mind. D&I work is an emerging process, so having a project style planned approach from beginning to end is likely to be unhelpful!
5) Start with the end in mind
The path you take is likely to include many different ways of improving diversity and inclusion. Each element may be focussed on a small group of people or goal and depending on where your organisation starts from it can take time. It is therefore easy to forget the big picture, and what you are setting out to achieve. Fortunately, with an increased focus on diversity and inclusion, there is more research published all the time about the benefits of diverse and inclusive organisations. Below is one of my favourites.
Organisations with inclusive cultures are:
6) Seek expert help
Well, I would say that, wouldn't I!! However, honestly, this is both a complex and emotive issue, also people leading D&I initiatives often don’t have positional power within an organisation. The influence and objective approach of an external consultant can be more influential, as well as holding the risk of uncertain outcomes while increasing capability within your organisation. Besides, people who consult in this area are often much more experienced and knowledgeable than anyone within your organisation (unless of course, you are lucky to have a dedicated D&I person which is still relatively rare).
7) Use a range of interventions
Often D&I activities are focussed on recruitment, career development and retention. These are essential ways to improve diversity; however, they often don't impact on inclusion. Depending on the goal of each initiative the following can also be hugely impactful: coaching, reverse mentoring, diversity networks (e.g. women's network and LGBT+ groups), an inclusion steering group (helps develop inclusive leadership capability and coordinate the activities of diversity networks), allies and role models with training and support and inclusive leadership and team development.
8) Be courageous and compassionate
Conversations and initiatives about D&I are sophisticated, emotive and challenging. Courage in these situations is essential to take work to a level of depth, which will have an impact. Counter-intuitively, if D&I work stays at a surface level, it is likely to stir up discontent while not being impactful enough to make any positive change. Also, things are likely to go ‘wrong' at some point. ‘Wrong' could be anything from someone taking offence at how something is said to the needs of one group impacting negatively on the needs of another (e.g. the current situation in some areas where feminist approaches are calling for the exclusion of trans women). Taking a compassionate approach, towards yourself and others, grounded in human rights is therefore essential. So, take a deep breath, be ready to listen, change focus if things don't go to plan, and dive in!
For more information about taking a Courageous Inclusion approach read our blog on our model for creating safe environments for inclusive conversations (Courageous Inclusion).
For more information about how evosis could help your organisation visit https://www.evosis.co.uk or contact Alison at firstname.lastname@example.org.