At CEB’s ReimagineHR event in Miami on Thursday, diversity and inclusion leaders from a wide range of organizations gathered to share ideas and discuss common challenges in a peer benchmarking session. Participants in the session answered a series of live survey questions, launching into conversations about their experience implementing their D&I programs. The discussion covered D&I’s place in the organization, how to get both employees and executives to commit to these projects and hold them accountable for those commitments, and strategies for implementing D&I practices effectively. These are some of the key takeaways from this benchmarking activity:
1) D&I programs vary widely in terms of maturity:
The most progressive organizations have been working on diversity and inclusion for years now, but others are just getting started. Accordingly, Thursday’s benchmarking session revealed considerable variation among organizations when it came to how far along their programs were at implementing common practices in the D&I space. Nearly half of the participants said their organizations did not directly manage accountability for D&I among their leadership, while 16 percent said they don’t have employee resource groups, 30 percent don’t use HR business partners to support their D&I programs, 19 percent don’t focus on diversity recruiting, and 23 percent don’t maintain a D&I dashboard or scorecard. The maturity of an organization’s D&I program doesn’t necessarily correlate with its size, sector, or age; each organization’s journey toward embracing D&I is to a great extent individually determined.
2) D&I leadership is dispersed among different roles and functions:
Only 24 percent of the executives at Thursday’s session said their primary job description was “D&I leader.” In comparison, 28 percent were heads of talent management, 20 percent heads of HR, and 12 percent heads of recruiting. These figures indicate that there is no single agreed-upon way to manage a D&I program or situate it within the organization’s leadership structure. This is also an example of how D&I is still evolving as a function and finding its footing at many organizations. If D&I is just one item in an executive’s portfolio, it’s unlikely to get the same kind of attention as it would from a dedicated head of D&I or chief diversity officer. On the other hand, having the head of HR or other executives directly involved can be an asset. Finding the right leadership arrangement goes a long way toward making a D&I program thrive.
3) Securing executive buy-in is an important step:
Just over 45 percent of participants said their organization included D&I in their leadership competency model to create accountability among executives for their commitment to this initiative (again, the same number said they had no direct accountability system). Far fewer (around 4 percent) said they either tied D&I objectives to executive compensation or used recognition to incent executive support. In the discussion, several leaders whose organizations have made significant strides on this issue stressed the importance of having a high-ranking champion—the CEO, a top-level executive, or a member of the board—who takes a personal interest in D&I and makes it their business to push it forward. Leaders still struggling to make D&I a priority at their organization may find it helpful to cultivate these executive champions. One example of a way to achieve this is through a mentorship program that pairs executives with employees from underrepresented groups to build that personal connection and commitment.
4) Employee resource groups need structure and leadership to be fully effective:
Building D&I from the bottom up is just as important as securing that top-down commitment, and a common tool for doing so is the employee resource group (ERG) or affinity group. One key challenge in establishing an ERG is selecting someone to lead it, to which different organizations have different approaches: 48 percent of participants in this benchmarking session said their ERG leaders are employees who volunteer for the task, compared to 20 percent whose head of D&I appoints them. These approaches have different benefits and drawbacks: Volunteers are typically passionate and dedicated, but don’t always have the skills they need to run a group effectively; an ERG leader appointed by the head of HR, by comparison, may be more competent but less enthusiastic about the role. Some ways to square that circle include vetting candidates with HR, soliciting recommendations from managers and employees, and encouraging passionate employees to apply to lead ERGs. Executive involvement with and support for ERGs is another success factor mentioned by several participants.
ERGs also need to be more than just social clubs. Although the social component of an ERG can have value for engagement, retention, and inclusivity, participants noted that it was important to build a business case for them as well. Building a framework for ERGs around defined goals can help ensure that activities are aligned with those goals.
5) Leaders and HR professionals are still learning about unconscious bias:
Combating unconscious bias in recruiting, performance management, and manager-employee relations is one of the most important things an organization can do to make its culture more inclusive, but it’s also an uphill battle: People are also naturally reluctant to recognize their own biases, and when these biases are unconscious, it’s easy to pretend they don’t exist, even though everyone has them. The challenge here is best described as getting leaders, employees, and HR comfortable with being uncomfortable.
The idea that came up in Thursday’s conversation was that yes, more work is needed to raise awareness of unconscious bias, that awareness training isn’t sufficient on its own. The lessons learned in unconscious bias training require constant reinforcement to keep them front-of-mind, which can take the form of micro-learning modules, self-directed exercises, video resources, team activities, and so forth. It’s also important to tailor these learning activities to employees at different levels: A hiring manager, for example, expresses unconscious bias in their daily work in a different way from a front-line employee. There is also a widespread need for tools to help employees and especially leaders use that awareness to unbias their day-to-day work, as well as processes to help mitigate bias that can be led by D&I, HR business partners, or recruiters.