Last week, we spoke about how to set realistic, impactful targets. Today, I want to share three actions that will ensure that targets are duly socialised and seen in the right context. These actions may seem self-evident, but as we know, the devil is always in the details and execution. Anything from the wording used to the frequency with which we engage in these actions will have a great impact on the success of our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy, including making sure that everyone sees these targets as a help rather than a hindrance.
Action 1: Understanding and communicating the business case for EDI
Yes, that old chestnut again.
In this iteration, what we’re after is to ensure that leaders are fully engaged with the EDI strategy, and communicate it with confidence and authenticity. To do so will require each leader’s and manager’s understanding of the business case for EDI as it pertains to their department or team.
Understanding the business case, however, is only the first step. What’s even more important is to speak about the business case that confirms the understanding and belief that EDI is an important part of the business agenda.
Thinking about how we portray EDI as leaders will make a huge difference. EDI should not be another item on the list to turn to, once all the business items have been discussed. If a leader innocuously says ‘OK, now that business matters are out of the way, let’s talk Diversity and Inclusion’ they set the tone for the topic as something that is tangential to the main event, a side show or a warm-up act, and therefore not imperative to the business. And we know that is not true.
Another example of where organisations fall foul of this is when, at business conferences, EDI related conversations take place alongside the main agenda, or before or after the conference. It’s also the case when EDI events are attended only by those for whom EDI is seen as most relevant – women and members of other underrepresented groups in the workplace. More leaders and people with wider influence need to attend these events, to reassert the importance of the topic of conversation.
Leaders who say that they understand the business case need to show over and over again that they really do – not just with words that say they do, but also with words that don’t say they don’t!
Action 2: Making talent management processes more transparent and objective.
We know that bias creeps into every single talent management process such as recruitment, onboarding, development and progression. We know this because the percentage of members of underrepresented groups in each of these processes does not reflect pool of all candidates available for each of them.
In our last blog, I talked about identifying the level of seniority, for instance, at which women become stuck. This is the so-called Marzipan layer – senior enough to have had a successful career but so sticky that progression beyond this level is difficult.
Once this sticking point is identified, it’s important to understand what part of the process is responsible for it: is it that the attributes of leadership beyond this level – networking, being outspoken, have gravitas – favour the dominant type (e.g., white, educated men)? Or that the requirements for progression require the type of experience that members of underrepresented groups find difficult to obtain, because progression and visibility opportunities often present themselves informally (often also due to societal and other biases)?
When we start looking for the bias that has (inadvertently) crept into the process – and let’s face it, this is more often than not the reason for the lack of progression of any given group of people – it is surprisingly easy to identify the bias and to correct it. One way is to review all written feedback given to employees and look for patterns of feedback for members of an underrepresented group. Women, for instance, are often judged on their attributes and personality rather than their skills, or are discussed in terms of experience rather than potential, unlike most men. Look for wording that evidences this bias, words that make it sound like the person doesn’t have enough gravitas, influence, a large enough network, or words that describe a lack of experience like needs more time or could use more mentoring/sponsorship or needs to know the product lines better. Compare this wording against written feedback given to the dominant group to see whether it’s even-keeled or showcases a bias.
Many ways in which to identify and correct the most common biases in the workplace are set out in the book Bias Interrupted by Joan C. Williams. There are even more ideas and resources in the Inclusion Nudges Guidebook by Lisa Kepinski and Tinna C Nielsen, to name but two of many resources on this topic. Implementing some of these changes will make a remarkable difference to bringing fairness and objectivity to the process in question.
Action 3: Measuring Inclusion
Measuring Inclusion is something that needs to be done in more than one way.
Once a correction is implemented, for instance, it becomes important to set a target on the relevant process so as to measure its success. That should be done for every correction or measure implemented to correct a systemic bias.
It is also important, however, to get a sense for how inclusive the culture of a team, department or organisation is. This can be done with surveys, which many organisations already have. Even better, however, is the exercise of listening groups, where a trained facilitator or coach (internal or external) asks open questions and probes further into the answers, and measures the results against the views of a control group.
The results from these types of qualitative listening exercises are surprisingly revealing and can inspire specific actions to address whatever other Inclusion shortcomings become apparent.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that addressing EDI like any other business challenge will yield effective change. I am, however, always surprised when people say to me, referring to an incident: how do we change this kind of thinking or behaviour? The answer isn’t rocket science; we are all equipped to come up with the right solutions, and there are many resources out there that can help. The issue, I believe, is in the way we see EDI; as something that’s unfamiliar and requires skills and expertise we do not possess, or is the responsibility of Human Resources of People & Culture departments, or is discounted as a ‘soft’ skills issue, not as significant as hard business skills. This is of course where we come full circle and start at the very top with Action #1: the old chestnut.