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Ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion in the office

Ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion in the office

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A new study conducted by United Minds, in partnership with Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, detailed the evolving role of Chief Diversity Officers and corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) leaders over the past two years, notably featuring an increase in resources, responsibilities and optimism for the future despite significant adversity. 

The global study of 227 of the senior-most professionals responsible for DE&I at their organisations expands upon a 2019 US-focused report and offers a look at the function before and after a period characterised by a global pandemic, racial justice movement and recession.  

The 2021 study reveals that since 2019, senior DE&I leaders in the US are 2.6 times more likely to hold C-suite positions and oversee 4.5 times bigger teams. Globally, 86% of senior DE&I leaders are satisfied with the resources invested in DE&I by their organisation, with 77% reporting budgets of over US$10 million. In the US, nearly four in 10 (39%) senior DE&I leaders report budgets exceeding US$50 million – a 26% increase over 2019. 

At the same time, despite an increased focus on societal inequities, senior DE&I leaders continue to have to make the business case for the importance and impact of DE&I: more than three quarters (78%) agree that DE&I isn’t prioritised unless there is a visible or public problem and only 45% strongly agree that their role is seen as a ‘must-have’ by the organisation’s leadership. This is compounded by the fact that more than half of senior DE&I leaders report unfair treatment (discrimination, harassment and/or microaggressions) within their organisations. And even as companies continue to face the Great Resignation, the report shows priorities shifting away from retaining and recruiting diverse talent. 

“We are seeing significant momentum in establishing and resourcing the critical role and executive function of office of diversity,” said Tai Wingfield, Executive Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, United Minds. “However, we also know that change takes time. A critical part of every diversity leader’s job continues to be getting buy-in on the importance of the work even as the business case is strengthened every day.” 

Intelligent CXO spoke to three experts about how companies can continue their DE&I journey by ensuring it in the workplace.   

Mark Ackerman, Area VP, Middle East and Africa, ServiceNow 

From corporate balance sheets to national and global economies, the jury is in. Economic advantages are the result of inclusive policies; and losses persist for those that have not started their ‘diversity, inclusion and belonging’ (‘DIB’) journeys. As a case in point, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, PwC estimated last year that legal and social barriers to female participation in workforces represent an annual GDP loss of US$575 billion. A paltry 56% of women believe they have been assessed on a par with their male colleagues when up for a promotion and two-thirds are in favour of government intervention in the private sector on issues of gender diversity. 

Change will not happen on its own. Business leaders need to commit to a new era of DIB to usher in the prosperity that can result from the welcoming workplace. Here are five pillars around which such efforts should be organised. 

1. Workforce training  

To ensure DIB, digital learning tools must engage participants with interactive formats that equip every employee – from the regional office to the global leadership team – with actionable tips they can apply to their everyday interactions with colleagues. As much as possible, learning platforms should emulate real life and allow trainees to apply what they have learned to relevant scenarios.  

2. Equity for all 

All of us have a need to feel equal to our colleagues and that should be reflected in an inclusive environment. Fairness and respect should emanate from DIB programs and create an atmosphere of equity across the entire employment lifecycle, from interviews to onboarding and onward through career progression to offboarding.  

3. Giving employees a voice  

One of the challenges associated with building inclusive cultures is that it only takes one bad experience for an employee to feel that they do not belong, but it takes constant effort on the part of a diverse, focused team to make everyone feel like they do belong. To make such an environment function long term requires feedback. That is where listening will matter most. Organisations must construct safe places where the open exchange of perspectives can occur. Frank, respectful dialogue is essential to a DIB culture. 

4. Recruiting and career advancement  

In the years to come, the region’s top talent will gravitate towards great workplaces. They will expect DIB to be a given. Considering the diverse nature of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and wider Middle East, those that prioritise the recruitment, development and retention of that talent will also have to prioritise inclusive practices. 

5. Lobbying for good  

DIB leaders must set examples, both inside their organisations and outside. They should be advocates for ‘bringing our whole selves to work’ and be well-versed in the issues surrounding diversity, inclusion and belonging, so they can explain to others what it means to blur the line between the personal and professional and what the benefits of such approaches are. 

Darren Hockley, Managing Director at DeltaNet International 

Creating an inclusive work environment is increasingly important for employees. According to recent research by Indeed, almost half (48%) of girls aged between 16 and 18 would rule out working for an organisation with a gender pay gap against women – while only 32% of boys saw pay equality as a requirement.  

Since 2017, the government authorised mandatory gender pay gap reporting and is currently in discussions to make ethnic pay gap reporting compulsory too. But representation doesn’t stop there.  

A BCG report found that among Fortune 500 companies, only 24 CEOs are women, three are black, three are openly gay and, one is a lesbian. Representation matters, so improving diversity in leadership positions is critical to strengthen diversity in the rest of the organisation. It’s about time managers prioritise diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. 

DEI training 

Education is paramount. Training managers on DEI and unconscious bias will help them create more inclusive environments for their teams. Managers must recognise and understand gender issues, be respectful of different religions and cultures, and be empathetic in addressing disability and age. DEI can be present in the workplace in various ways, but it lies with managers to make employees feel comfortable with who they are while they work.  

Teaching managers to be more inclusive when it comes to recruitment will significantly help to improve DEI in the workplace. This training should include ensuring that all employees working in the same role are paid equally to minimise any risk of pay gaps. Where gender or ethnicity pay gaps exist, employees feel devalued by their organisation and managers risk losing exceptional talent.  

Ensuring employees receive DEI and unconscious bias training is also crucial, so they know how to use inclusive language when communicating with colleagues, customers and suppliers. 

Workplace culture 

Treating employees equally – regardless of their background – is vital. It is a manager’s responsibility to build a culture that allows this. For example, following stringent internal policies if bullying or harassment occurs ensuring that employees are well-aware that inappropriate behaviour will be not tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly. Managers should have regular one-to-ones, where employees feel comfortable speaking to them about any issues they have in private.   

Managers might also create a DEI team, supporting the leadership team to promote inclusiveness in the workplace and celebrate different festivities such as PRIDE month or a religious holiday. Managers should regularly ask their teams for feedback to ensure transparency and hire more inclusively during the recruitment process. Offering flexible working to their employees is highly beneficial in improving employee engagement. Flexibility allows employees to work around their personal commitments such as school runs or even employees working far from the office, giving them more work-life balance.  

Derek Irvine, SVP Client Strategy and Consulting, Workhuman 

To drive real progress and achieve genuine change when it comes to DE&I, creating an agile action plan and a DE&I programme that better position your organisation for the future of work is key. There are three key factors for success: Gathering and acting on data, cultivating purpose-driven leaders and developing employee networks. 

Data is everywhere in today’s workplace, from payroll to performance reviews and when analysed can shine a light on invaluable information, patterns and trends that can help leaders make informed and more holistic decisions when it comes to the likes of promotion or pay rise. For organisations that have reward and recognition programmes, they have even more data at their fingertips to analyse and gain a more well-rounded view of employees. It can, for example, reveal hidden unconscious bias in the workplace. Workhuman research into reward programmes for instance found that women received awards that were about 12% less in value compared to men, including from other women.  

By looking at this data then and by also analysing how people communicate within an employee recognition programme to spot any areas of unconscious bias in written communication, leaders can set about creating an action plan and setting targeted goals to combat any issues.  

An organisation also can’t have a strong culture of DE&I unless its leaders embrace its value. Leaders who genuinely make DE&I a priority and of organisational value will be the ones to thrive in the modern workplace. These purpose-driven leaders will help drive DE&I throughout an organisation as a whole and have a knock-on effect for future leaders by imparting these values from the get-go. 

As well as getting buy-in from leaders, developing employee-led networks and a strong community within a workplace are crucial factors in creating a more inclusive, diverse and equitable working environment. Without an employee community, there is no human connection – and in today’s hybrid working environment, this human touchpoint has never been so important, especially when it comes to representation, retention and advancement. 

Of major importance here is psychological safety, a state where employees feel safe to be their full, true selves at work without fear of recrimination. This is hugely important to creating a strong DE&I strategy and ensuring its culture flourishes, as when people are confident and comfortable being themselves at work, organisations will see a greater diversity of thought and input as well as a strong, inclusive workplace. 

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