Different colour hands made out of paper raising the thumbs up on a dark background representing a DEI strategy.
Image: © Bobboz/Stock.adobe.com

How to kickstart and stick to your DEI strategy

24 Jul 2023

HRLocker’s Crystel Robbins Rynne writes that Irish employers can implement DEI strategies without having to resort to spending huge money.

Diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) progress has come to a standstill. Despite significant investment in unconscious bias training, policy, mentorship, and other initiatives, organisations are failing to make real progress. While it’s true that the pandemic and other macroeconomic impacts disrupted efforts, if employers don’t act now, the same issues will remain for generations to come.

The business case for DEI has already been made many times over. Leaders know that diverse organisations outperform less diverse ones. The incentive to improve is there – but the strategy isn’t.

It’s time for organisations to rethink DEI. To bring strategy in line with organisational values and objectives and foster a culture of belonging where all people can thrive.

The right environment

Diversity can’t bloom in a toxic ecosystem. Inclusivity is essential for ensuring diversity efforts pay off and people from all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging in your organisation. So, before doubling down on diversity efforts, you must focus on building an inclusive culture.

Microsoft is an exceptional example of how an inclusive environment helps diversity flourish. Through a series of programmes, Microsoft is shifting internal behaviour so that everyone is accountable for change.

Through the creation of hiring programmes for underrepresented groups – such as people who are neurodivergent and ex-military applicants – Microsoft is creating clear pathways into technology. But the company also acknowledges how barriers to inclusion appear externally.

By partnering with governments and public institutions, Microsoft demonstrates a commitment to improving inclusion that goes far beyond the workplace. Acts like this show employees that it isn’t purely self-serving– it’s a fundamental value.

Microsoft is a major tech company with the budget and resources to match. So, while it’s an incredible case study, it’s not easily replicable for smaller companies. But there’s still so much you can do to make a difference.

For instance, run an audit of your business to see who’s represented and who’s missing. An internal survey on diversity, equality, inclusion and belonging could also help you determine employee sentiment and identify areas where improvement is needed.

Crystel Robbins Rynne headshot.

Crystel Robbins Rynne. Image: HRLocker

Look at the research on inclusive cultures and see how you can replicate them in your business. In a survey of 19,000 readers, Harvard Business Review found that the most diverse and inclusive organisations were ones that fostered a learning culture. Flexibility, open-mindedness, and exploration were qualities that reigned supreme. So, consider which practices, behaviours, and initiatives you can implement that embody these qualities.

The problem with metrics

Sooner or later, you’ll need to decide what to measure for your DEI strategy. Maybe you already have a set of goals you’re working towards. It’s time to reevaluate them. It’s all too easy to slip into the vanity metrics – measuring employee numbers but not the ones that matter, like employee sentiment or long-term retention.

Data is helpful for setting a benchmark and measuring progress, but it can also be reductionist. DEI is so much more nuanced than numbers alone.

Say you achieve gender equality in your hiring process for 2023. But by 2024, half of the women you hired in 2023 are leaving. Or new leadership positions have all been filled by men. Is that a diverse workforce? Have you achieved the DEI outcomes you set out to? Or is there more work to be done?

Metrics are also about intention. Suppose you’re set on improving numbers for specific minority groups so that you can tick boxes, fill quotas or brag about it in your marketing and awards submissions. In that case, you’ll do little to improve diversity, equality, and inclusion in the long term.

Equally as important as a diverse organisation is a balanced one. Watch out for your metrics – and make sure you’re measuring what goes on below the surface. Don’t just measure your company as a whole – measure every level. That way, you can design targeted solutions that address the root cause of an issue.

Rethinking the diversity journey

When your marketing strategy starts to go well, you don’t throw in the towel and call it quits. You double down on what’s working and change what isn’t.

The same goes for DEI. Treat it like all other essential business functions because it is essential. But remember, it’s a journey, not a destination.

Here are five steps to kickstart your DEI strategy:

Understand where you are right now

Auditing existing policies and procedures, analysing workforce demographics, and reviewing employee feedback will all result in valuable data. You can then look at answering critical questions. What key issues are your people facing? What obstacles are hindering diversity, equality, and inclusion in your organisation? Which goals have you met, exceeded, or fallen behind on? All the answers will help you identify a benchmark.

Set and articulate your goals

Make sure the entire organisation is empowered and accountable for improving DEI. That means setting leadership KPIs that are intrinsically tied to your DEI goals.

Every department should also be tasked with making necessary equitable adjustments so barriers to inclusion are minimised, and diverse participation is accommodated throughout.

Align DEI with your company mission

Ensure every aspect of your business is DEI-focused. From shop floor to boardroom, all personnel need to know how vital diversity is and how inclusion is incorporated into their function.

Send and reinforce the message in all your communications, from job descriptions to corporate updates and social posts. Instead of an add-on, DEI should be central to how you operate – embedded in the culture and tailored to your unique organisational structure.

Make it external

Find ways to engage with the issues you’re tackling internally, externally. Look out for support organisations, social groups and local campaigns you can partner with to learn from and nurture talent.

Publish your reports for extra accountability. It might be challenging, but ensure any critique is approached constructively and acted upon in good faith.

Assess, adjust and act

Decide a regular schedule for checking in on the strategy side, adjusting your goals, and setting up new initiatives. DEI isn’t a mission you revisit once in a while. It’s an ongoing journey where improvements are always possible.

By Crystel Robbins Rynne

Crystel Robbins Rynne is COO and an employee experience advocate at Co Clare-headquartered HRLocker, a company that provides cloud-based HR software to help clients manage office-based, remote, and distributed workforces.

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