D&I Audit: what’s behind that steel door?

What are the benefits of conducting an Inclusion Diagnostic – or D&I audit – in light of what it might reveal?  Below, I share the learnings of a client from when they were at the start of their Diversity Journey.

The Diagnostic consists of a series of focus groups aimed at answering one specific question.  In the case of this particular client, the question to answer was simply why very few women progressed to senior leadership.

What prompted the request for the Diagnostic:
For several years, the client had failed to promote many of its women to senior leadership.  It was thought that most women either lacked the drive or the confidence to step up.  Matters came to a head when management realised that, if they didn’t start promoting more women soon, they would end up with an all-male management team – something everyone was keen to avoid.

To find out why women did not achieve the same career success as their male peers, we were asked to conduct our Inclusion Diagnostic.

The Risks of Asking the Question:
As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.  It was of course important to find out what stood in the way of promoting more women within the company, but there is a risk involved in asking the question: once employees were given the opportunity to share, stories and examples came out of the woodwork that pointed to a work culture full of unconscious bias, blind spots and microaggressions.  This was perhaps expected; what was more difficult to accept were some of the very personal accounts of encounters, disappointments, embarrassing scenarios and the use of hurtful expressions.

We heard accounts of women having to corroborate and defend their positions or decisions much more than even more junior male peers.

We heard stories of women being left out of correspondence on projects on which they were working, meaning that they were left out of important nuances that made them look less well-informed.

We heard stories of senior leaders assuming that, once engaged to be married, women would not want to continue to work hard and to be promoted to management.

And so on and so on.

For the first time, the executive team saw a reflection of behaviour in the mirror held up to them that they didn’t recognise and which embarrassed them.

It’s important to emphasise that most of the stories were not vengeful and did not intend to embarrass.  It should, however, be expected that the information that comes out – once you start an Inclusion Diagnostic and open that Pandora’s Box – might be overwhelming.

The Risks of Not Asking the Questions:
However difficult it was to hear first-hand accounts of colleagues’ experiences in the workplace, it was an invaluable step towards greater inclusion.  While the quotes and stories were painful to hear, we were able to organise them into themes and identify and prioritise the existing challenges, from the most to the least prevalent.  This gave us – and the executive team – the opportunity to decide how to correct the course and begin to mitigate some of the systemic biases that were holding back many talented, hard-working  women.

The senior leaders did not shy away from the pain of asking the difficult questions or take affront at the information that came out of the focus groups. If they had, they would not have been able to fix the obstacles that held many competent, ambitious women from doing what they loved to do: contribute to the success of the company.

Having gone through the psychological discomfort that the Diagnostic imposed, the company was able to agree a clear roadmap for addressing the uncovered challenges and to put in place a process that made it easier for women to be promoted – a win for all involved.

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Tackling The Pain of the Diversity & Inclusion Journey

Embarking on the journey towards greater diversity and inclusion can be a stressful experience.  To make this a more pleasant experience, let’s examine 3 potentially-painful trials on the D&I journey:

  1. Opening Pandora’s Box

One of the first things we often do with organisations is conduct our Inclusion Diagnostic – and audit of how inclusive the work culture of the organisation is.

In addition to providing a thorough understanding of people’s perception of inclusion, this exercise also uncovers sentiments that may not have readily shared before.  Colleagues tend to be forthcoming with scenarios and examples that, once voiced, cannot be ignored.

In this way, the exercise of listening is akin to opening Pandora’s Box:  once you’ve provided people the space to open up and agreed to listen, it is not possible to backtrack, even if what comes out is uncomfortable or even painful.

To prepare for the unexpected information and thereby minimise its potential shock, we explain in advance that the aim of the exercise is to find out what portion of the organisation doesn’t feel included and that is often a less pleasant reality to hear.    We also emphasize that this information is not designed to lay blame or judge – it is intended to help identify the type of action that will address the uncovered challenges and lead to greater Inclusion.

In the end, while the findings can make for uncomfortable reading, they allow an organisation to take specific action to address them and, in this way, attract respect and praise from those who shared.

  1. Unpredictable Impact

Many leaders worry that introducing D&I initiatives means promoting less capable individuals.  Although data shows that there is no reason to worry about this, it remains a pain point of the D&I journey for many leaders.  It is the dealing with something new and – in their view – untested in their organisations.

One way to minimise this worry is to do more research to find information that is persuasive and disarming.  That said, in my experience, unless it is data from peers, it is difficult to assure leadership that a similar result will apply to their organisation.

Another way to tackle this point is to consider ‘the lesser evil’.  I often ask the question: what will be the consequence of inaction?  This usually draws out scenarios that no leadership likes to contemplate.  Once the picture of inaction is thoroughly painted, the pain of not knowing whether D&I initiatives will in fact work – against evidence that they do – becomes less prominent.  A bit like those who are afraid to fly still do, knowing that the odds are indeed in their favour.

  1. No Boundaries

When talking about Inclusion, we advocate allowing people to bring their whole selves to work, allowing them to be who they are so they can feel that they belong.

When we talk about this, we often hear the concern that this kind of open-ended permission might invite unwelcomed views from those opposed to liberating voices.  This brings its own challenges for organisations.

One way to address this is the ‘Live and Let Live’ rule.  This rule is an agreement with colleagues that, while encouraged to be themselves, this liberty must not impose on another’s to do the same.  The point at which one’s freedom becomes another’s confinement is when the line is crossed.

Embarking on the Diversity journey can be challenging.  But there are ways to ease that pain – and working with a specialist consultant is one of them. Voice At The Table has expert consultants on hand to help and advise company leaders, with evidence-based case studies to draw upon and proven tools to ease the pain of the journey.

We will be talking about some of those tools and how they can help later in the month. In the meantime, let us know if we can help ease the pain of your D&I journey.

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