Embracing diversity and inclusion (D&I) as part of a company’s culture requires more than simply including it as an item on the corporate agenda. The steps to integrate it and achieve real results take thought, strategy, and continued action.
In an Oracle Live webinar “Why a Diversity and Inclusion Focus Is Good for Business” last April, experts in the field gathered for a panel discussion on key changes and trends in the D&I landscape, the power of D&I data, and how D&I can drive business success.
Here are five lessons from the discussion.
Being responsive to the needs of your workforce will establish trust and ensure employees will feel empowered. Shilpa Shah, director in Human Centred Transformation and lead of the Women in Technology & Consulting Inclusion Think Tank at Deloitte, elaborated on the various ways her company engages and listens to their employees to prioritize D&I.
“We spend a lot of time listening to our people through different mechanisms, whether that’s digitally listening, whether that’s surveys, whether that’s engagement in specific forums to really enable diversity and inclusion,” says Shah.
This kind of responsiveness can help humanize and understand people’s different circumstances, Shah adds. In addition to inclusion, other goals, such as prioritizing well-being, are also being incorporated into their framework through more intentional listening. She notes it is important to offer this to employees both consistently and in different ways.
Head of Diversity Equity Inclusion, Practices at Johnson & Johnson EJ Henry agrees that asking questions and having open conversations are critical in making D&I part of a company’s culture. These efforts can revise long-held outlooks that keep outdated systems in place.
“To shift this perspective, you have to take the entire employee life cycle and remove those inequities from the process and the system,” says Henry. “When you do that, then you start building those equitable operations and without even realizing it, you’re being equitable, fair, and creating an inclusive environment.”
Several panelists noted the importance of letting the world know your company has a unique vision for a diverse and inclusive workplace. This kind of communication helps to demonstrate how you plan to address your community’s specific needs.
Oracle’s Melanie Hache, EMEA Diversity & Inclusion director, stressed how crucial it is to respect and gain an understanding of different countries and regions in order to thoughtfully formulate an effective story. “When you are located in London or Dubai, you may not have the same type of population, culture, habits, or the same way to tackle the D&I agenda,” says Hache. “It’s important that everyone can have the sense of belonging and strategy that is connected to their reality.”
From there, Hache says that leaders need to make sure they are making the effort to strategically reach the markets they want to educate. "We really need to take care about explaining, setting the context for each priority, for each action,” she says. “This is where we can really use data to be compliant and have a consistency of story.”
Marlon Wilson, senior manager of HR Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at British Telecom, agrees that data can play a critical role to ensure D&I efforts are having the intended impact. For example, setting benchmarks and metrics can be a way to guarantee the organization is making progress. In contrast, data can also help identify when goals are not being met and what the root causes are.
“Data is amazing,” says Wilson. “Whether we’re talking about age, gender, race, and any of your protected characteristics, we’re able to pull together defined programs to address specific needs.”
As a result of getting more data on their workforce, British Telecom has been able to recruit more diverse candidates to specific roles and incorporate different awareness and educational training programs. “Data is allowing us to be more specific with identifying where our challenges and opportunities are to help drive us closer to our D&I goals,” says Wilson.
|“Think within your own organizations about how you can create that relationship and empathy with every action. However small, it can lead to bigger consequences later on.”
|—Shilpa Shah, Director in Human Centred Transformation, Deloitte
Henry’s team is also using data to address the population they are serving and the representation within their own organization. They have been able to put programs in place based on what that data is telling them. These programs include more diverse clinical trials, multicultural marketing, and market access equity for patients.
“If we’re not taking that diversity into consideration, we’re not really servicing our customers to the fullest,” says Henry.
When diversity and inclusion is treated as a culture, and not an initiative, the results are tangible. A key piece of incorporating this into a company’s culture, all panelists agree, is encouraging allyship.
“Allyship needs to be a really big focus,” says Shah. “It isn’t just about a specific inclusion group, but how do we bring everybody into that journey.”
Shah offered up an example of the holy month of Ramadan for Deloitte’s Muslim colleagues and how everyone else could try a fast under an opportunity called “The Fast and The Curious.”
“Think within your own organizations about how you can create that relationship and empathy with every action,” says Shah. “However small, it can lead to bigger consequences later on.”
For Henry, promoting allyship is a collective effort between all colleagues at an organization.
“It needs to be something that every single employee at a company needs to take stake in,” says Henry. “A lot of times it looks like the work is always put on the person who’s leading the D&I efforts, and it’s their responsibility to make us whole and inclusive, and it’s not. It’s everybody’s responsibility.”
Cultivating a diverse workforce is more than an agenda item. It’s an investment in a company’s future. To close the webinar, panelists shared meaningful changes their organizations have made to attract more diverse talent.
Wilson outlined a specific plan for British Telecom to prepare people for the future of work.
“We’ve also committed to the skills of tomorrow to connect at least 10 million of our population by 2025 to skill them to be able to use developing technology,” says Wilson.
For Shah, the efforts to invest in the future include: using more inclusive language in job descriptions to attract different talent, changing recruitment processes to be more contextualized, having outreach programs and apprenticeships that reach diverse groups, offering return-to-work retraining to help people join the technology industry, and creating a guide for neurodiversity to be used by recruiters.
“We want to see how we can continually encourage people,” says Shah. “We want everybody to be curious, ask questions, and then make a commitment to making some change.”
Alex Chan is a writer for Oracle. She was previously a reporter for The Orange County Register and subsidiaries of the Los Angeles Times.