The past few years have seen executives finally start to wake up to the fact that our companies, and more particularly, the boards which run those companies, may possibly be dominated by too many “pale stale males” (speaking as a pale stale(ish) male myself). From 2015-2020, 40% of Fortune 500 companies hired executives focused on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), and a 2020 report found that these executives are being given the ability to review and change policy to improve diversity and inclusion. For other executives who still need convincing to do the right thing, I’ve written on how organisations that focus on D&I end up increasing their bottom line.
Organizations are also looking at the suppliers they contract with and asking for D&I statistics, examples of initiatives and an assurance that the organisations’ values are aligned. Mindcrest is regularly asked by clients to provide our own statistics and details of the D&I initiatives we have undertaken.
But when we talk about these values in the workplace, what exactly do we mean? It’s a good question, given that it is easy to proclaim one’s organisation as “diverse,” but more difficult to put forward substantive initiatives. According to the Chartered Institute of Personal Development, the concept of Diversity relates to:
“…the recognition that, regardless of our identity, background or characteristics, we all deserve the opportunity to develop skills and talents to our full potential, to work in a safe, supportive and inclusive environment, be fairly rewarded and recognised for our work and have a meaningful voice.”
So far so obvious. The concept of Inclusion, however, takes it a step further, stressing that a truly diverse workforce means more than having a diverse group of people physically present in your building, (or virtually present)and having a culture where everyone actually feels they are accepted and belong, without necessarily having to conform.
Diversity is the WHAT. Inclusion is the HOW.
The difference between the two can be subtle, but it is important that we do the work of understanding it. A recent article by Laura Sherbin PHD, an economist specialising in how we can create a competitive advantage through D&I, gave an example of a multinational company, which she did not name, which on paper had no problems with diversity. It had a particularly strong gender and ethnic mix among its leadership team. However, one of its most valued employees was an indigenous Peruvian man who was respected, well paid and included in decision making. Yet, in a confidential, one on one interview, he saw no future for his ambitions. He said:
“I know they value me, but they will never make me a partner because of my colour and background.”
Sherbin pointed out that conventional data on D&I would never have flagged this man as being overlooked. It was left up to him to (anonymously) tell his own story. If we are serious about changing the accepted norms in our business, we must go further than looking at blunt facts and figures. We must be prepared to have actual conversations with people, and really listen to what they have to say. This can be risky and uncomfortable, not to mention time consuming.
This is an area where developments in the data analytics sector can help organisations further their ability to create a diverse and inclusive work environment, as well as hold themselves to account to avoid situations like the one outlined by Sherbin. Organisations that excel in capturing and analysing legal operations data, or hire vendors that perform this analysis for them, can use similar strategies in analysing their own efforts. This is more than just compiling statistics and setting quotas, which can appear good on paper while still leaving others out. It is using this data to set targets, collect responses, outline clear objectives, measure statistics and report out progress or deficiencies. It is collecting both quantitative and qualitative data, analysing it and using it to inform decisions. We can use this data to drive both diversity AND inclusion in our organisations.
Many organization have made strides by focusing on inclusive values, hiring D&I-focused executives and made some changes, and those organisations also see a bottom-line benefit to improving their value-baseline. However, as Sherbin showed, there are still areas where organizations fall short which will not show up in traditional reviews. It is incumbent upon organizations to use the proper resources to strive for proper inclusion and to take the initiative to find their shortcomings and address them.