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National Inclusion Week 2022: It’s time to stop with DEI (dead-end initiatives)

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For National Inclusion Week 2022, HRZone examines the hard truths behind painstakingly slow progress in diversity, equity and inclusion. Dead-end initiatives need to stop – and we reached out to the experts to show us how.

26th Sep 2022
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Any half-decent people professional is acutely aware of the importance of workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). We don’t need to bang that drum still, do we?

Yet when it comes to progress, organisations are painstakingly slow. According to McKinsey 2019 research, female leaders make up 20% of an executive team and ethnic minority leaders make up only 13%. You’d like to think those numbers have shifted slightly over the past few years, but we still have a long way to go.

Contributing to this poor progress is the assumption that diversity and inclusion should be cornered off as a separate initiative – distinct from the main running of the business. It is also commonly seen as HR’s responsibility. Or perhaps the responsibility of a newly appointed DEI leader (such an appointment sounds impressive, but it is only impactful if the person in post is granted real integrative power). With such a siloed approach, employers will undoubtedly struggle to affect real change.

It is telling that this year’s theme for National Inclusion Week is ‘Time to Act: the Power of Now.’

We need to be pacier with progress, more driven by the data and, yes, more inclusive with our approach to inclusion.

With this in mind, HRZone reached out to three passionate DEI advocates to tell hard truths about our shortcomings and how we can navigate out of them – NOW.

DEI is not a tick box, it’s a treasure trove."

STILL treated as a tick box exercise

Why are current DEI efforts slow to achieve meaningful impact? Karen Dobres, Elected Director of Lewes Football Club and 2021 winner of the Culture Pioneers Inclusion Award, believes it remains largely a tick-box approach. 

“There’s still a disconnect between DEI and your business success. People (and other football clubs) still treat it as a tick box exercise that they are obliged to do rather than a series of changes that will a) make them more money and b) make employees feel happier,” Dobres says. 

“It’s a good business decision as illustrated by our successes at Lewes Football Club. DEI is not a tick box, it’s a treasure trove.” 

How to avoid dead-end initiatives

DEI as an obligatory duty that sees little results is a stance that is echoed in a conversation Michelle Raymond, Managing Director of The People’s Partner, recently had with a client. 

“A few weeks ago, someone said to me that DEI stood for dead-end initiatives. I thought this was a rather harsh comment but I wanted to explore more and see if we could get to a solution. We agreed that the lifespan of DEI usually lasted around a year to two, more if their company had an effective system in place.”

Following this conversation, Raymond came up with three solutions to building a more effective and sustainable inclusion strategy.

Ultimately, inclusion is a mindset and behavioural practice that needs to be adopted by leaders and HR committed to real change."

1. On-going education

DEI initiatives need to be supported by ongoing education and address implicit bias. Both leaders and staff need to increase capability in these areas, always.

2. Role modelling leadership

The C-suite need to be fully supportive and drive inclusiveness from the top. It should not be left to HR to be responsible for DEI in an organisation.

3. Money, money money

DEI initiatives need to be backed by budget. Leaders need to be proactive in ensuring adequate funding is designated to support all DEI-related projects.

Raymond concludes that inclusion needs to go far beyond siloed programmes. “Ultimately, inclusion is a mindset and behavioural practice that needs to be adopted by leaders and HR committed to real change that positively contributes to the wellbeing of all.”

From inclusion to belonging

When focusing on DEI, a key component is often neglected – employee belonging.

Belonging and culture consultant Isabel Collins highlights why this might be. “Moving from ‘inclusion’ to a sense of belonging takes deeper commitment,” Collins states.

“We belong to several groups at one time. Our individual identity is forged in the overlaps – both unique and shared. Belonging is complex and nuanced, so organisations can succeed by making this easier to navigate.”

Camaraderie is a great strength – but if it is too tight it can become excluding."

Collins outlines what it takes to cultivate a culture of belonging:

1. Get beyond the numbers

It is important to focus on real experiences too

2. Coach managers and leaders in HOW TO handle sensitive and difficult issues

This includes how to call out exclusion and heal harm, plus how to extend opportunities to under-represented groups and enable meaningful exchange, not just awkward posturing.

3. Focus on the key moments of belonging

These include the welcome for new starters, the regular coming together for shared experiences, and the appreciation of progress so people feel valued.

4. Nurture connections between teams as much as within.

Camaraderie is a great strength – but if it is too tight it can become excluding.

5. Value quality over quantity

More useful than counting how many people have taken part in training, is to assess the depth of impact. Ask yourself:

  • Do people, after coaching, feel more comfortable raising a sensitive issue or challenging a senior colleague on an inclusion issue?

  • Do teams find their managers more confident and competent?

Also, steer away from individual online training. Put people together from different experiences to share perspectives. This should involve well-supported conversations that help people address difficult issues, learn through scenarios and deconstruct a real challenge.

6. Make people accountable for adhering to your DEI standards

Unconscious bias training, while well-intentioned, is too clunky – and can push people to defiance: ‘You can’t tell me what to think’.

But as one client replied to a truculent leader: ‘You’re right: But we are telling you what you can express here, how we treat colleagues, and what we expect of leaders.’

Share how to adhere to and achieve your DEI standards. And don’t compromise.

Embrace now

Transitioning from dead-end initiatives to a culture of belonging is a complex, time-intensive task. It requires behaviour change, mindset shifts, bigger budgets, leadership buy-in and ongoing commitment from all.

It may feel overwhelming to embark on the journey, so start small, get friends with influence on board and embrace the power of now.

Interested in this topic? Read 'Six DE&I metrics you need now.'

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