Diversity October 2013

Diversity and Inclusion—Where to Start?

The idea that diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a business imperative has finally hit home. Firms appreciate the competitive advantages to be gained by diversifying their talent pool.

Global jinzai (talent) is one example of the opportunities that come with D&I.

Recruiting Japan’s most underused resource—women—is another priority now being supported (in theory) by Abenomics. Other minority groups are also on the radar, including people with disabilities.

The pay-off of sourcing the best people with different perspectives is increased creativity, innovation and an improved ability to meet the needs of clients.

Research shows us that diverse groups outperform homogeneous groups. It should be noted that diverse teams can potentially under-perform, as they are more complex. The secret to ensuring high-performing teams is managing inclusion and leveraging diversity.

Accountability and ownership
D&I is a long-term and active investment in organisational, intra-personal and interpersonal change.

D&I begins with compelling and sincere messages from senior executives stating the business case and vision.

First, establish a D&I council to guide strategy and measure results with the head of firm as the chairperson and other executives in active roles.

The mistake I often see is to outsource D&I to human resources or to a diverse employee, such as a senior woman.

While HR can provide several vehicles to facilitate the D&I goals, such as training programmes and policies, recruiting strategies and so on, ownership and accountability ultimately belong with senior management.

Diverse employees may serve as role models and leaders of grassroots initiatives, such as employee resource groups. Still, it should not be assumed these staff have the expertise or influence to lead the entire D&I strategy.

Engage a D&I expert
Creating a role for a D&I professional makes a statement about an organisation’s commitment to the concept. No headcount available for this role?

An external D&I consultant can work with your internal resources to assess and fast-track your organisation to get effective plans and programmes in place.

Get managers, middle managers involved
Middle managers are the hardest nut to crack.

Typically, they say they are not clear about the business case for D&I and, even if they agree with inclusion as a value, they don’t know what exactly they are supposed to do differently.

Additionally, unless they can see their peers and own leaders actively demonstrating inclusive behaviours, they are unlikely to want to experiment with new strategies, especially in a culture where people shy away from being “the protruding nail”.

Senior management needs to repeatedly model and cite inclusive attitudes and behaviours.

Expect middle managers to take responsibility, whether that be a role in the D&I council or an employee resource group, or sponsoring a member of a minority group.

Reward inclusive management formally, by tying it to performance objectives and compensation, or by granting informal appreciation awards. Ultimately, what gets measured gets done.

Deliver a menu of D&I training
Without resources and programmes in place to support D&I goals, it’s hard even for managers who value diversity to quickly acquire the skills needed to lead more inclusively.

Have various training programmes focused on raising awareness, cultivating inclusive behaviours and skills, and mitigating unconscious bias.

Some programmes can cover inclusion in general, while others may target specific topics such as people with disabilities, cross-cultural competencies, managing flexible workers and diversity of thought.

Take a systemic approach and provide developmental programmes for people to manage their own diversity and the biases they might be experiencing. Leadership programmes for women are an example of this approach.

You need at least 30% critical mass to impact a change in culture. Well-designed training programmes that partner with managers to be more effective can change mind-sets.

Metrics and benchmarking
Relate D&I to the bottom line. Showcase examples of when D&I has been a factor in securing a deal, a key hire or an innovative solution.

If you really want to get people to wake up, talk about a lost opportunity for failing to consider D&I, such as losing out on talent or a bid for a proposal.

Decide with your D&I council what you want to measure and whether you will use targets or quotas. You may consider tracking gender and multi-cultural balance at all ranks.

You also may want to know how your organisation compares with competitors and clients. Take part in benchmarking surveys and employer-of-choice awards to identify improvement areas and showcase your strengths.

Ultimately, the goal is having diversity and inclusion become sustainable and seamless parts of your organisation’s DNA.