What exactly do we mean by Diversity & Inclusion? ChapmanCG has watched the focus on this topic in multinational companies develop over the years and has observed varying approaches, trends and cycles in what is clearly an increasingly important part of the overall business, HR and Talent space in organisations today. It seems Diversity & Inclusion is now genuinely more understood across the business as a critical element of the people strategy, and is no longer simply a social obligation or something that companies want to be seen to be pioneering. Whilst it has been around for over 30 years, definitions of D&I vary and often depend upon the values, cultures and even sub-cultures within an organisation. Today, it can be seen in a huge array of different guises, from organisations offering flexible and varied work arrangements, to companies having strategies in place to help the less extrovert personalities have their voices and contributions heard that may otherwise go unrecognised.

The topic of D&I has been discussed in many of our recent interactions with our global network of over 70,000, via our HR Leaders sessions and webinars, and it is clearly an important consideration across the board. In the following article, we will examine D&I in depth to truly understand the key challenges, priorities, initiatives and differences in organisations and geographies today. Director Alan Mait will provide the US perspective on D&I, Tim Rayner will look at Europe and Dona Battat will focus on EMEA and how D&I is evolving in the region. All three have spoken with close client contacts to get their views on the topic and how it has affected their organisations.

What are the Critical Success Factors for a Diversity & Inclusion Programme?

1) Leadership Commitment

This has been the most common theme mentioned by all of the HR and Diversity Leaders we contacted. Most agreed that previously it was perceived to be solely the D&I function’s role to focus on these practices, but what has become clear more recently is that business leadership is essential. According to Marc Grainger, Managing Director, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion and Human Capital Management and Talent for Credit Suisse, “This is a topic which requires visible senior executive support, to both initiate these programmes and sustain them with their sponsorship.” This view is echoed by Neil Cockroft, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, who states, “Visible leadership commitment is key. Unless the person at the top speaks and acts to reinforce the view that D&I are important, others may avoid or resist it. Leaders have to communicate why it's important as a business issue. Far more change is possible if the people at the top are tangibly committed to the agenda.”

Patsy Doerr, Global Head of Corporate Responsibility & Inclusion at Thomson Reuters, goes further, “What is needed is active and real support from the top, not just talking the talk. We need to be clear what the business case is and present it in a way that appeals to business heads and customers. It is also important to have a comprehensive strategy that touches the entire employee lifecycle from creating an inclusive culture to recruitment, to developing talent and managing attrition - and to make sure it is cohesive and crosses all borders.”

The business angle here is critical, as in today’s complex economy there are countless important issues that compete for business leaders’ attention on a daily basis. The key is to keep D&I as a top priority among other urgent priorities. Valerie Grillo, Chief Diversity Officer at American Express put it well: “As economic environments in some markets continue to be challenging, getting leaders to maintain a focus on diversity whilst simultaneously trying to grow their markets is key. We need to help them to realise that the greater the diversity in the team, the better the outcomes in the long term.” Ayana Champagne, Global HR Leader, Aftermarket Operations at Pratt & Whitney, noted that it is important to gain buy-in at all levels, not just at the top, “We must also have buy-in at the bottom, and by focusing on early career talent who are new to the organisation, it can become a two-way conversation and the effort can meet in the middle.”

2) A Well Constructed Approach

It is not enough to have a concept of what you want to achieve when approaching D&I. What is needed is clarity around the issues and a well-defined path to achieve predetermined goals. Neil Cockroft advises, “‘D&I’ isn’t a ‘programme’ – which implies a series of projects or initiatives, which may not be integrated within a coherent, long-term strategy. . Too often, they address symptoms rather than root causes. Nor is D&I a bolt-on policy or process, but should be part and parcel of how business and work get done.”

This is also reflected by Charlotte Sweeney, Founder and Director, Charlotte Sweeney Associates Ltd, Specialists in Inclusion, Diversity, Wellbeing and Change: “Diversity & Inclusion has to be seen in the same light as ‘culture change’ and ‘change management’ - with rigour around it and not as an ‘initiative’ as such. Change is a process of continuous improvement - linking D&I directly to the business plan and what it is looking to achieve is critical if the change is to be sustainable. If the business plan changes, then D&I should be reviewed to ensure it’s on track.”

3) Measurable

“What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done,” in the opinion of Ayana Champagne. But how do we measure D&I success? A straightforward method is to focus on Talent Acquisition numbers, and chart how diversity has increased in the organisation over a period of time. But does this show that your programme is achieving true Diversity & Inclusion? As Cheryl Fells, CHRO and Managing Director of Game Changer Consulting puts it, “An organisation may have a lot of Diversity, but it may not necessarily be inclusive. Diversity could exist only in positions that do not have any power, any voice.”

It’s also not only about numbers according to Patsy Doerr, Thomson Reuters, “It’s great to have the quantitative measurements and for a while that was the focus, but we are hitting a point where it is important to measure qualitative metrics as well. How well do people feel that we are focusing on this?” This feedback is best obtained by looking at what engagement surveys, pulses and frequent manager/team member meetings tell us. Patsy goes further adding, “It is important to work D&I into your existing systems, as if it is seen as a separate initiative, it becomes irrelevant and does not become ingrained. It is key to work it into everything you do, whether it is recruitment, talent reviews or customer reviews.”

4) Accountable

How important is it to make sure that there is a level of accountability for the success of D&I? All questioned agreed and were adamant that accountability is an absolute must, particularly that which can be measured. According to Marc Grainger of Credit Suisse, “Even the best D&I initiatives will have a high risk of failure, unless you have manager accountability. This doesn’t have to be financial accountability - if I know my boss is holding me accountable for achieving certain metrics, I’m going to be incentivised to achieve those metrics.” Ayana reinforces the point, “If we don’t drive accountability, commitment to D&I becomes an ‘option’ for employees at all levels, and it can’t just be an option.” Charlotte Sweeney highlights, “For D&I to be truly embedded in an organisation everyone should know what part they play. People simply often don't know what to do, which is where coaching is imperative to identify what they need to do. What are people going to do differently? People think they know what D&I is, but very often there’s an assumption that it's someone else's action.” Holding employees accountable can make a world of difference.

We’ve Got Diversity, but What About ‘Inclusion’?

Maybe it is because Inclusion is more difficult to define or measure, but whatever the reason, it has traditionally taken somewhat of a back seat to Diversity. However, that tide has been turning and it is now generally agreed that Inclusion should be the focal point as a measure of success. Ayana Champagne explains why, “Globally there is a mix in any workforce – diversity of thought, experience, passion, culture, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation - and we appreciate this, but then we get to the point of inclusion, and it’s an afterthought, when it really needs to be the first thought.” Ayana believes that successfully marrying these differences together to create a culture which values them and works toward the common goals of the organisation is crucial. She goes on, “People perform at the best of their abilities when they feel a sense of inclusion.”

Valerie Gillo echoes the importance of ensuring a focus on both the ‘D’ and the ‘I’, as one without the other is ineffective and unsustainable. “If we only focus on the Diversity part, we may show good numbers, but progress is not sustainable because you don’t have a culture or an environment where leaders are empowered to take advantage of the diversity.”

Innovations in D&I

One of the most innovative approaches taken by any organisation is that executed by Thomson Reuters. Taking a truly holistic approach, the company has combined the three areas of CSR, Sustainability and Inclusion into one group. Patsy Doerr, who leads this function, explained that it was largely driven by an appreciation of external factors: “We see it as a way of talking about Thomson Reuters as a responsible business as it applies to our people, our markets, our community and our environment.” She continues, “We must consider a broad range of stakeholders including employees, clients, investors and talent whom we are looking to attract. There is so much data and research out there about the impact of diversity, inclusion, sustainability and corporate responsibility on the bottom line. Our work impacts employee engagement, customer loyalty, productivity, innovation and ultimately performance. These issues are no longer just HR issues; we have moved beyond the HR piece - these are really business issues.”

Another approach is highlighted by Valerie Grillo, who has leveraged research from the Centre of Talent Innovation on the challenges facing global organisations, “We are now looking at Diversity as two dimensional: inherent diversity aspects – what you are born with, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, LGBT; and also acquired diversity – experiences that change your point of view, such as working in different countries, working across industries and speaking multiple languages. We are now beginning to build and measure acquired diversity into our model.”

What Hurdles Remain to Achieve Success?

  • Going Global and Local

The fact that Diversity & Inclusion is close to the top of every HR and (most) business agendas demonstrates that strides are being made, but what challenges do we still face? One such challenge is how to implement a single global strategy. As Marc Grainger highlights, “One factor that makes diversity complex is that a lot of this is by its nature regional, and so priorities in the U.S. will not necessarily be the same as priorities on other continents and in other countries. The challenge from a global perspective is determining what initiatives we should be driving globally that will sit side by side with what is being delivered regionally.”

  • Unconsciously Homogenous

Unconscious bias is not a new phrase. It is a well-known fact that people can be quick to make judgements based upon our own beliefs, which are shaped by our individual experiences. It is very hard to break through this unless it is brought to the surface and people are educated to understand the origins of their viewpoints. Cheryl Fells used this approach in her Diversity training citing that, “The major outcome is to have people not use their automatic processes, but to think about what is going on. What are they relying on to make their decisions?” It seems that once we can reverse engineer our decisions, we can consciously deconstruct and understand bias. This may be easier said than done, but it is no doubt central to achieving diversity of thought and as a result, inclusion. Attempting to change cultural norms and the way people think is not going to happen overnight. “The majority of people are willing but they do not know how,” continues Cheryl.

Look to the Millennials

There may be a positive catalyst happening now according to Cheryl: “The big push will be from the millennials - not only because this group wants to be more aware and much more cognizant of the world and the social good, and less focused only on money; but because they are such a large group of people and such a force. They want to work in organisations which are more diverse, they have more friends from different cultural backgrounds, and they are willing to listen. Because they are such a major force, we will begin to see more rapid change.”

Final Thoughts

It is apparent that there are many views and opinions on the topic of Diversity & Inclusion, and this will likely be the case for many years to come, as it should be. After all, isn’t the inclusion of diversity of thought and experience what we are striving for? It is all about instituting the right culture and as Cheryl Fells put it, “Diversity & Inclusion is really just a tool to reach a cultural goal and vision, where people feel connected and can bring their talent to bear.”

The end goal of D&I initiatives should be an appreciation for and an acceptance of the diverse range of employees and viewpoints in any organisation. To reach this stage, it is important that we become conscious of where our values come from and how they shape our views of others. We leave you with a concluding quote from Ayana Champagne: “Many companies don't want to erase a particular group’s way of thinking, or change individual beliefs. What leaders want to do is help people recognise the value that differences can bring to an organisation so that employees follow inclusion guidelines because they want different perspectives that validate current thinking or offer counter opinions. D&I offers unlimited potential to both individual employees and companies when they work together toward the same goal.”

The D&I agenda is often described as a journey – and some practitioners suggest this never really ends. But if there is an ultimate destination, then it is a workplace and culture where the full spectrum of differences in people and their thinking are present, normalised, and fully utilised as an asset – in other words, ‘business as usual’.