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We need to be bolder - Diversity and Inclusion isn't working

How do we move Diversity and Inclusion from a ‘nice to have’ to an essential component of good business practice? To celebrate the International Women’s Day 2017 theme, #BeBoldForChange, Palladium’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion Dr Rosanna Duncan explores why and how we need to do better.

Diversity and Inclusion is about positively embracing 21st century corporate culture.

Nice to have but not essential

In recent years more evidence has emerged to support the business case for integrating formal Diversity and Inclusion policies and culture into corporate strategy and governance. Finally perhaps, the D&I acronym is shaking off its ‘soft and cuddly’ image; the, “that’s something public sector and local authority types get up to” identity. Or not!

The awkward truth is that Diversity and Inclusion has become a discipline, a department, a ‘bolt-on’ necessarily limited to being a function of a business’s activity outside of core commercial operations. And the projections bear out suspicions about the ineffectiveness of D&I’s ‘special initiative’ status. 170 years is a long time to wait to close the gender pay gap!

Diversity and Inclusion is not an initiative, it’s a way of living, a principle of operation. It’s about positively embracing 21st century corporate culture and making a proud declaration that we want to build organisations that reflect the diverse, nuanced and varied skills we see in the world around us. We need to be bolder.

So where do we start?!

From poor relation to head of the house
Although more and more organisations are creating D&I-related senior roles they often don’t have the status or seniority to influence change at the pace required. In the past these roles have been seen as creative additions to generic ‘HR’ – not transformative positions designed to embed principles of diversity and inclusion throughout an organisation.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a hugely positive step for organisations to create D&I-focused roles. That any organisation is prepared to invest in this aspect of their corporate culture is to be applauded. However, we must avoid any temptation to assume that D&I is something that can be ‘done’ to a team or a whole company. A Director of D&I is just that; someone tasked with directing an organisation’s approach to how they work with principles of diversity and inclusion. This requires a pretty fundamental culture shift and the enthusiastic adoption of diversity and inclusion from the CEO down.

Making diversity and inclusion pay
It’s all very well and good encouraging senior leaders to proactively promote diversity and inclusion, but to integrate its principles into how we work, we need to tie adoption to accountability and reward. One bold step is linking bonus pay to D&I indicators to ensure that even the most strident member of the resistance will encourage and support integration of the diversity and inclusion agenda. In the past, some organisations have also gone down the ‘diversity champion’ road, which is essentially about identifying a senior person to occasionally give a talk on D&I written by someone else. Whilst well-meaning, this approach just isn’t bold enough. If we don’t integrate diversity and inclusion into work planning and performance management, it won’t permeate corporate culture.

Senior leaders need to understand that there will be consequences for inaction on D&I. For our workforce, these issues matter. Requiring senior leaders to report on progress and provide a platform for staff to challenge and hold them to account will be a key motivator.

We also need to be bold enough to tie D&I indicators to corporate performance. Giving diversity and inclusion equal weighting with indicators of financial output and success is the kind of bold step required to move D&I from token gesture to corporate priority.

It’s not just about recruitment – you can do well by doing good
Remember, D&I is not just about our workforce and how we find and recruit the best talent (although this is one crucial element); it’s also about how we work with clients, manage our supply chains, and drive business growth. The research is out there to support the business case but some organisations are struggling to either understand or believe it! A diverse and inclusive organisation collects a broader range of experiences and expertise, sparks innovation, and prioritises an ethical and efficient global footprint. You can do well by doing good.

Be bold, we learn by trying
One approach we’re trialling is empowering our most senior leaders with the responsibility to drive diversity and inclusion in their departments or geographical areas of responsibility, and subsequently holding them to account. Will this work? We think it will, but we see huge value in the process in any case. Full integration of D&I into all facets of organisational behaviour is in its infancy. We need to recognise that, and be willing to take bold steps to place diversity and inclusion at the the heart of our culture.

The important thing is to keep reviewing progress. If something isn’t working then change it. This is what being bold on D&I means. If it’s broken we fix it. We don’t keep doing the same things and expect to get different results. To be successful, organisations need to be flexible, proactive and reactive, not necessarily all at once or in that order! D&I fatigue is not unheard of or surprising. Like all cultural change, it’s challenging. That’s why it is so important for D&I to be driven by senior leaders in their geography to ensure ownership and local context.

The business potential for Diversity and Inclusion

So it’s the right thing to do and it’s the smart thing to do! But it’s also the strategic thing to do. As you celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day – both the successes and the job still to be done – think about what diversity and inclusion might mean for us in the next decade. We need to be bold if we’re serious about making change happen.

Those who embrace diversity and inclusion attract and retain the best staff, making them winners in the war for talent.

Corporate cultures that are indistinguishable from diversity and inclusion are seen as business leaders and exemplars.

D&I specialists are not needed in organisations. Everybody is so conversant in diversity and inclusion that it’s part of our operational DNA.

Clients have increased their demand for performance on diversity and inclusion – lip service is not an option.

If we continue to do the same things time and time again we won’t get a different result and we will never achieve gender equality. It’s time to be bold. It’s time to do things differently.


About the author

Dr Rosanna Duncan, Palladium's Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

Rosanna joined Palladium in 2016 to lead on the development and implementation of our Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) strategy. This involves maximising the opportunities that can be realised by embracing D&I for our people, beneficiaries, donors, clients and supply chain. Rosanna draws upon more than 20 years of experience of working within the field of D&I including her most recent role with High Speed Rail (HS2) Ltd. Rosanna is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), and has published a significant body of research on a range of diversity related topics.