- Leaders must align their diversity goals with equity and inclusion goals
- DEI initiatives should connect to an organization's unique culture
- Transparency with DEI reporting creates trust
As the public eye fixated on racial justice in the U.S. last year, organizations sensed a new level of urgency in addressing diversity, equity and inclusion -- or DEI -- in the workplace. Despite many bold statements, commitments and new initiatives, leaders continue to search for proven practices to promote diversity and inclusion.
Gallup sat down with 231 chief human resources officers (CHROs) of large companies worldwide during 17 virtual meetings to discuss how they are addressing DEI in their organizations. Surprisingly, many CHROs have reached similar conclusions, despite vast differences in the structure of their businesses, organizational cultures, geographies and industries.
Here are 10 of the most common and important learnings they have shared:
Align the D, the E and the I. Many CHROs acknowledge that there can be benefits to addressing diversity, equity and inclusion separately; although some steps overlap, each facet fundamentally differs in outcomes. However, CHROs have realized that there is a balance to be struck -- isolating each pillar too much can hinder or undermine progress in any one element. For example, organizations can increase hiring diversity, but a failure to align inclusion efforts can lead to a talent exodus as those diverse hires who want a welcoming work culture depart. Further, a failure to prioritize development opportunities will lead to a leaky succession pipeline.
- Authentic buy-in comes from culture and values. CHROs resoundingly agree that the strength of the work culture can make or break nearly any agenda. In the case of DEI, connecting the initiative to your unique culture and values is foundational to success. Without the alignment of culture and values, initiatives lack authenticity and meaning, which threatens buy-in and sustainability.
In the case of DEI, connecting the initiative to your unique culture and values is foundational to success.
Accountability is critical. CHROs acknowledge that accountability is more difficult with DEI than other agendas -- and that accountability challenges are central to DEI failures. Vague targets, artificial milestones and a lack of tangible incentives (or penalties) lead to organizational friction, low organizational buy-in and unclear responsibility for outcomes. In response, many organizations have begun to set up better infrastructure for DEI, including appointing chief diversity officers, creating task forces, or more clearly outlining the responsibility within HR and/or other functions. Several CHROs have incorporated DEI goals in incentives and found it was just the push that was needed.
Leverage champions and stakeholders for the long haul. Some CHROs say that the secret to success with DEI programs is assigning champions and stakeholders. They help create energy, buy-in and accountability -- all of which are critical to lasting change. For DEI initiatives, tapping into those who are already passionate about the cause can be especially effective: People who are intrinsically motivated about DEI are more likely to commit for the long term and continue despite challenges.
- Communication is key. CHROs agree that communication is vital in introducing, rolling out and sustaining new DEI initiatives. Top-down messaging -- from the CHRO or CEO, for example -- is powerful; it gives employees the sense that their organization really cares about DEI. Plus, ongoing conversations, dialogue and feedback about DEI efforts promote an inclusive culture in which employees feel heard, respected and valued. Even more, communicating about DEI successes builds excitement and investment in the cause. CHROs have often been frustrated to find that no one knows about the progress they are making, which leads to the misconception that there is no progress being made. They have realized what a missed opportunity this is when it comes to maintaining momentum for DEI initiatives.
For DEI initiatives, tapping into those who are already passionate about the cause can be especially effective: People who are intrinsically motivated about DEI are more likely to commit for the long term and continue despite challenges.
- Seeing is believing. Hearing about progress toward DEI goals is important, but employees really need to see it -- and experience it -- for themselves. This means that they need to see real, concrete and observable change. CHROs have realized that listening sessions, trainings and employee surveys cannot accomplish this on their own because employees need to see tangible follow-through. These might be changes to organizational policies or procedures, new development opportunities, or more diversity among employees who receive promotions. Regardless, the changes must be visible and meaningful.
Hearing about progress toward DEI goals is important, but employees really need to see it -- and experience it -- for themselves.
Know the difference between DEI policy and practice. Some policies that, at face value, seem to be equitable and inclusive continue to show ongoing bias or imbalance in outcomes. Invariably, the culprit is the way these policies are applied in practice. A common example is hiring and promotion policies. On the surface, they are impartial or even embracing of diversity -- but in reality, loopholes, "gray areas" and subjectivity make it all too easy to perpetuate inequitable outcomes. Bottom line: It isn't enough to change policies; you have to change day-to-day behaviors and practices as well.
- Transparency creates trust. CHROs report that their organizations are making representation more transparent. Some are going so far as to make it public or join organizations with public DEI rankings. For some, this is part of a greater effort toward corporate social responsibility (CSR) meant to create trust with potential employees, consumers and investors. Many CHROs acknowledge that greater external pressure may be on the way as well (i.e., the ESG movement), making it prudent to start thinking about reporting to get ahead of the curve.
Bottom line: It isn't enough to change policies; you have to change day-to-day behaviors and practices as well.
Consider both broad and narrow targeting of DEI initiatives. Many organizations have struggled to choose between a DEI program that encompasses all groups versus one that is targeted to address the challenges and needs of specific groups. While DEI should be for all, it is sometimes effective and appropriate to focus on specific groups such as women or Black Americans. Targeted approaches can have clearer goals and make people in a specific group feel cared for. However, organizations can't possibly have an initiative for every group that has historically been oppressed, overlooked or disenfranchised. Some CHROs suggest pairing targeted initiatives with broader cultural changes. Listening to employees can also help organizations figure out what makes the most sense.
A global DEI strategy requires consistency and specificity. CHROs of global companies have discussed the challenges of addressing DEI across different geographies and cultures in a way that is appropriate and specific to the context of the location, while still maintaining consistency and a unified organizational culture across all locations. CHROs have reported that a philosophy of "think globally, act locally" has been a useful guiding framework. The culture and values of the entire organization should include the appreciation of individual differences, the goal of increasing representation among underrepresented groups, a commitment to fairness and justice for all, and a duty to leverage the benefits of a diverse and engaged workforce. But specific DEI initiatives should be tailored and developed in close collaboration with local leaders, managers and employees to target the concerns most relevant to the population in a way that is culturally appropriate and authentic.
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