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Getting down to the basics of DE&I

  • Publish Date: Posted 9 months ago
  • Author:by Kim Gray

Like any change process, measuring the success of an organisation’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives should never be about just ticking boxes on a checklist. Not only does a DE&I programme need to demonstrate a positive impact on employee experience but, arguably, it should also result in a more efficient business with a more innovative approach.

Diversity of opinion

We know that organisations composed of people from similar backgrounds, who all look the same, and have many of the same ideas and responses, can foster a kind of ‘groupthink’ that makes them hidebound and incapable of change.

One significant advantage that is often claimed for DE&I initiatives is that they enable a richer and more varied approach to thinking about how to meet the challenges your organisation faces, by allowing a greater diversity of voices to be heard. However, for initiatives to successfully enable that diversity of opinion and representation, its leadership needs to be engaged from the start and be on board for the entire journey.

With many organisations currently touting their DE&I and ESG credentials, it’s important for the executive team to truly understand how to support transformational change in their organisation, and appreciate what people with different experiences and backgrounds need to thrive in their roles. That means creating access to allies, supporters, and mentors for everyone - right down through the organisation. The importance of getting that level of engagement right should not be underestimated.

Sharing experiences

An organisation’s ability to provide that level of support is somewhat dependent on its size, but one approach I have seen which can have a significant impact both up and down the organisation is when colleagues are able to share human stories.

As an executive coach, one thing employees at all levels have consistently reported as having the greatest impact on them was when their chief executive was prepared to share a very personal story with them.

Although training on DE&I topics - from impostor syndrome to unconscious bias, to psychological safety - is growing in popularity and is easy to deliver in bite-size chunks, every company should invest in more opportunities for open discussions. These can take the form of lean-in, ‘lunch and learn’ sessions that can be held both in person or virtually.

When people feel safe to raise their hands and talk about what challenges they’ve faced, a group is more easily able to share real human experiences. There is nothing more empowering than being in a room with someone who has experienced similar challenges to you, and who is prepared to talk about how they overcame them.

The talent spectrum

Every company is looking to make itself more attractive to incoming talent and is rightly focusing on training the next generation of managers and leaders. However, organisations need to look at both ends of the age spectrum when it comes to engagement and retention of staff. 

With recent press coverage about the number of over-50s dropping out of the workforce, it’s not surprising that governments have started to think about ways of keeping older employees at work or tempting them back into employment.

Access to talent that knows how to get the job done and can hit the ground running is crucial in the current economy. However, very little investment is made in the UK in employees over the age of 55, which is a missed opportunity.

In Sweden, by contrast, the percentage of people over 75 who are still at work is the highest of any country in Europe, due in part to incentives introduced by the government to make working beyond retirement age more attractive

Keeping these older workers engaged requires understanding how they want to work. If organisations spent more time trying to understand their more mature employees, and thinking about what they need to support them, sectors like the insurance industry could achieve much higher retention levels of experienced workers.

Measuring change

The simplest way to determine the effectiveness of your DE&I programme is to talk to your staff. Many companies implement programmes before canvassing staff opinion, but most employees will have had experiences in previous jobs that have had a big impact on their working life.

Getting staff feedback is therefore a great place to start with refining your DE&I goals. But don’t try and boil the ocean. Take that feedback and pick three areas that you want to achieve success in. Showcase your successes and then pick the next three areas to focus on, and so on.

At the same time, be aware of what you already have in the company that can improve your employees’ experience. Look at the benefits package your organisation already offers - it may include many things that your staff weren’t aware of. If you can showcase these to employees, that’s an easy win on day one. 

Of course, there is still much to be done to improve equity in the workplace. It surprises me how many organisations don't have gender parity around pay – and the picture is even more troubling when it comes to equality for people of colour.

A first step is to gather statistics about your pay gap and then be brave enough to publish them and recognise that improvements need to be made. Coaching and mentoring your female and ethnically diverse employees to make them more comfortable about asking for what they want will further drive progress on equality.

Any commercial organisation that is robust enough and mature enough to take steps towards greater transparency on parity, will also need to maintain a constant focus on the issue. Part of that focus is empowering your people to raise their voices, put forward different views, and be heard and supported so that they can thrive in their careers.