“After expressing support for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, many companies now face the reality of a prolonged remote working environment and questions about how to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” Susan Hunter wrote in “Taking the Diversity and Inclusion Journey: A Path Forward for Companies” in the November/December issue of Plans & Trusts.
Three best practices for organizations looking to advance their diversity and inclusion objectives and reap the benefits of a diverse workforce are (1) establish a listening strategy, (2) examine the workforce data and (3) assess the corporate culture.
1. Establish a Listening Strategy
As part of a listening strategy, organizations can set up employee resource groups (ERGs) that provide safe spaces for racialized employees to talk openly about their experiences. ERGs allow companies to better understand and learn from marginalized employees—Even more importantly, it allows organizations to find solutions.
Other steps include extending the conversation to external community groups and gathering employee feedback through pulse surveys.
Listening is an important way to address workplace mental health challenges and potentially control benefit costs by addressing mental health challenges before they become larger health risks, said Hunter, an equity, diversity and inclusion consultant based in Toronto, Ontario.
Research has shown that recent racial unrest and the adverse impact of the coronavirus on racialized communities has negatively affected well-being and work productivity. Managing these health risks can help to promote a healthy and resilient workforce and is increasingly viewed as an important step in controlling benefit costs.
2. Examine the Workplace Data
Diversity and inclusion should be driven by data to develop goals and measure performance, Hunter noted. Companies should collect data at the job level—by gender, race, ethnicity, disability and more—and then analyze it for gaps and disparities in the workplace.
For example, a company may see that there is an underrepresentation of women and/or racialized employees at certain levels. A thorough review of employment policies and practices, both formal and informal, can assess whether systemic barriers exist. Studies have shown that women and racialized employees have been disadvantaged by a lack of executive sponsorship and personal networks to promote and advance themselves.
Another crucial step is to assign accountability to a diversity leader or a task force to ensure the organization is working toward the achievement of the goals and metrics. Successful firms rely on data and metrics to set targets and to monitor and measure their performance, Hunter said, and the same rigor needs to be applied with diversity and inclusion goals.
3. Assess the Corporate Culture
“Every company has a distinct corporate culture,” Hunter wrote. “The issue is whether the culture is inclusive and welcoming or alienating to racialized persons.”
An equitable and inclusive workplace allows everyone to feel valued and empowered to be their authentic selves. A corporate culture that is not inclusive can lead to high turnover.
Building an inclusive culture requires a close examination of workplace norms, values and practices. Best practices include education and training on antiracism, antidiscrimination and antiharassment to help employees become more aware of unconscious bias and white privilege.
Effective approaches should also include opportunities for racialized individuals to directly engage with leaders. Mentoring programs, self-managed teams and the rotation of management trainees across departments can encourage interaction among white men, women, Black people and racialized groups, Hunter said. These measures allow for different individuals and groups to experience working together and can improve the corporate culture by erasing stereotypes and shifting perceptions.
[Related Reading: Stronger Organizations: Your Role in Diversity and Inclusion]
Good for Employees, Good for Business
There is also a strong business case for diversity and inclusion, with research showing a significant correlation between diversity and financial outperformance. Studies have highlighted that employees with different backgrounds, training and education can solve problems more quickly and creatively.
It is vital for executives and leadership teams to demonstrate commitment to equity and diversity. Best practices suggest the establishment of a diversity and inclusion council consisting of senior leaders with the accountability to set diversity goals that are also focused on the strategic direction of the business.
As Hunter noted, embarking on the diversity and inclusion journey takes time, sustained focus and a commitment to ongoing learning and long-term transformation. An approach that includes a listening strategy, a detailed review of workforce data and an honest assessment of corporate culture will help organizations advance their diversity and inclusion objectives and reap the benefits of their diverse workforce.
Robbie Hartman, CEBS
Editor, Publications, for the International Foundation
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