Gartner Reimagine HR 2018, Orlando.
In the past two years, issues related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace have appeared with increasing frequency in headlines, legislation, and shareholder earnings calls, underscoring the growing importance of D&I as a strategic priority for businesses. While it’s encouraging that CEOs and investors are paying more attention to D&I, this trend also puts more pressure on D&I leaders to create effective, sustainable strategies with direct impact on the organization’s priority concerns.
In a panel discussion at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in Orlando last week, Gartner’s Vice President of Inclusion and Engagement, Rajiv Desai, moderated a discussion with a panel of D&I leaders at major companies on the practical lessons they have learned in adapting their D&I strategies to business needs. Our panelists included Lori McAdoo, Global Lead–Inclusion and Diversity at Alcoa Corporation, and Vanessa Abrahams-John, Executive Director, Global Diversity, Inclusion and Talent Acquisition at Praxair, Inc. While Alcoa and Praxair have taken different approaches to evolving their D&I strategy, both our panelists emphasized the need for D&I leaders to build networked teams in order to create sustainable strategies, and shared two specific ways they are integrating teamwork into their D&I strategies.
Embedding D&I Strategy into Business Processes
A key theme in both panelists’ success stories was that D&I strategy is not only about programming, but also about embedding D&I into the heart of business processes. This requires intentionally engaging senior leaders to increase their buy-in and help them take action on D&I efforts.
Alcoa’s effort to integrate D&I principles into the business started in a familiar place: building the business case for why diversity matters to everyone, not just the D&I team or diverse employees. McAdoo explained that to gain buy-in, Alcoa led with respect because, “In a practical sense, it is hard to disagree with the general principle of respecting others.” By evolving the company culture into one where all individuals matter, their D&I principles organically shifted to a D&I functional strategy that supported key business goals. However, integrating D&I into the business sometimes does come with changes to policies and procedures to support its integration. For example, Alcoa changed an operating policy to support this new inclusive culture, adjusting shift lengths from twelve hours to eight hours to better support parents and caregivers. By having policies and procedures that align with cultural values of inclusion, Alcoa was able to treat D&I as a business necessity, not just a “nice-to-have.”
Hourly employees make up over 50 percent of the total US employee population and a critical segment of the workforce at many organizations. While employee engagement efforts typically focus primarily on salaried employees who are perceived as having more of a long-term commitment to the organization, hourly employee engagement and loyalty are growing concerns for HR leaders in today’s tight labor markets. According to recent Gartner research, hourly workers are more engaged in their jobs when they are satisfied with their employer’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
In the past year, we’ve seen many large companies launch new initiatives to better engage and retain their hourly employees, whether through education benefits or opportunities to work with local nonprofit organizations. HR leaders have also seen improvement of hourly employee engagement when these employees have positive perceptions of their organization’s D&I activities, our research finds. In fact, when hourly employees are satisfied with D&I, they exhibit almost twice the discretionary effort and almost three times the intent to stay compared to those who are not satisfied. However, only about half of hourly employees are currently involved with D&I efforts and HR leaders are uncertain how to use D&I to engage this population.
Our D&I research team has uncovered three ways HR leaders can leverage hourly employee engagement in D&I to make a positive impact on the organization:
Integrate D&I in Current Processes
HR leaders should integrate D&I efforts into pre-existing engagement initiatives, such as team meetings, to ensure that cultural values and behaviors are articulated and implemented consistently throughout the organization. This approach addresses a key challenge hourly employees face when connecting to D&I at their organizations: They do not feel included on their teams. By building hourly employee inclusion into existing processes, organizations can improve team performance without creating additional structures for HR to manage.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Sujin Jang presented the concept of “cultural brokerage” as a way of facilitating interactions across employees from different cultural backgrounds to supporting team creativity. Her research shows that “cultural brokers” (team members with multicultural experience) can act as a link between team members whose experience is mainly limited to only one culture. This research has significant implications for an increasingly global workforce and for HR leaders working to support diversity and inclusion goals.
One key message for HR leaders is that while having diverse teams can foster innovative thinking, all of the members of those teams must also feel included in order to achieve maximum benefit to innovation and productivity. Our research at Gartner on D&I leadership also finds that an inclusive culture can have a major impact on team performance, particularly for diverse teams. (Gartner Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council clients can read our Creating Inclusive Leaders study here to learn more.)
But facilitating an inclusive environment where employees from different cultural backgrounds feel equally valued and included is not an easy task; even with cultural brokers on their team, leaders must be proactive about inclusion and should not depend on these brokers to foster constructive collaboration alone. We recommend four approaches to building inclusive team environments:
- Ensure leader behaviors match inclusive values: Our research shows that interpersonal integrity and productive conflict management are two leadership behaviors that effectively drive inclusive environments for employees.
Nearly 20 million people of working age live with a disability in the US, according to Census data, while the unemployment rate among this demographic is about three times the national average. Recent research suggests that a lack of adaptive clothing suited to a professional environment may play a role in the underemployment of persons with disabilities. Kerri McBee-Black and Jung Ha-Brookshire, from the University of Missouri’s department of textile and apparel management, analyzed the professional experiences of 12 people with either physical or psychological disabilities to see what impact workplace dress codes had on their experiences in the job market. As they discovered, these rules can seriously limit their employability.
Just a few retailers, such as Izzy Camilleri or Silvert’s, specialize in adaptive clothing, which might include snaps or magnets instead of buttons, for example, or accommodate the specific needs of wheelchair users. Even fewer mainstream apparel brands, such as Target and Tommy Hilfiger, produce lines of adaptive clothing. Professional attire for people with disabilities is particularly limited, expensive, and hard to find. This lack of availability creates obstacles when trying to fit into a corporate work environment, of which people without disabilities may not be cognizant. These obstacles keep some people with disabilities out of the workforce entirely, or discourage them from pursuing careers for which they are highly qualified, McBee-Black said in an interview last month with Nadra Nittle at Racked:
One particular young woman who used a wheelchair and has a college degree and experience in the banking industry did not feel comfortable applying for a job in the bank when she graduated. She said, “I knew they had a specific dress code and that dress code would make it hard to use the restroom without assistance from others.” She was independent in every other aspect of her life but that, so she never once considered applying for a job at the bank.
It is imperative, McBee-Black argues, that more clothing retailers market adaptive clothing appropriate for the professional environment. Employers also have an important role, however, in ensuring that they are not inadvertently creating unwelcoming work environments for people with disabilities. Here are a few steps organizations can take to make their workplaces more disability-friendly:
Employees inside Slack's Headquarters in San Francisco (Slack)
The workplace communication and collaboration software startup Slack has garnered attention within the tech sector for its all-in approach to diversity and inclusion, issuing diversity reports at a faster pace and with more detail than their big-company competitors and making a point of giving its D&I commitment lots of visibility. Last month, Slack released its diversity report for 2017. The report touted a few victories, such as a 48 percent female management team and underrepresented minorities making up 12.8 percent of its technical staff, while also stressing the continued work it has to do.
In a profile of the company’s D&I program at the Atlantic on the occasion of that report, Jessica Nordell looked at several aspects of Slack’s approach to diversity that make it stand out from the crowd. One of these idiosyncrasies is that unlike many other tech companies, Slack doesn’t have a Chief Diversity Officer or other designated head of D&I:
While studies by the Harvard University professor Frank Dobbin, and colleagues, suggest having someone overseeing diversity efforts can increase the numbers of underrepresented groups in management, other measures, such as mentoring programs and transparency around what it takes to be promoted, are also important; a diversity chief alone may not be enough to make much of a difference. At Slack, the absence of a single diversity leader seems to signal that diversity and inclusion aren’t standalone missions, to be shunted off to a designated specialist, but are rather intertwined with the company’s overall strategy. As the CEO, Stewart Butterfield, has said, he wants these efforts to be something “everyone is engaged in.” Indeed, as the research by Dobbin and colleagues shows, involving employees in diversity policies leads to greater results.
The first lesson here is not “don’t have an appointed head of D&I,” but rather that there’s no one right way to structurally advance D&I. The Dobbin study makes sense because the D&I chief position ensures there’s always a voice in the room, but if any organization thinks they’ve solved D&I by creating a head of D&I role, they are sorely mistaken. In our work at CEB, now Gartner, we’ve seen organizations make progress with a large, singularly focused D&I function, or with a small but connected D&I function; with D&I reporting to HR, to the CEO, to the General Counsel, or to the Corporate Social Responsibility function.
Since March, Nike has been conducting a massive overhaul of its company culture, executive leadership, and HR practices after a covert survey of female employees revealed widespread patterns of sexual harassment, discrimination, and hostile work environments for women. As the New York Times recently reported in a major story reviewing the upheaval, this toxic culture was driving talented women out the door. In recent months, several high-level male executives at Nike have left the company amid the scandal.
Some of these executives stand accused of engaging in sexist practices themselves; others do not, but have been faulted for failing to address employees’ concerns, creating the perception of an executive “boys’ club” in which male managers were protected from consequences for their misbehavior. Another key theme in the Times‘ report is the Nike women’s dissatisfaction with the response they received from HR.
Nike CEO Mark Parker has moved quickly to bring the situation under control and assure employees that the company is taking its culture problems seriously. At an all-company meeting last Thursday, Parker admitted that he and other executives had missed signs of the problems that have come to light recently, apologized to the affected employees, and promised a thorough investigation into their complaints, along with changes to the company’s training and compensation practices to make them more inclusive, particularly toward women.
While Parker and his executive team will be responsible for making these needed changes to Nike’s culture and practices, none of these changes would be possible without the women employees who took the initiative to bring the company’s problems to light. One important takeaway from this story, therefore, is the power and promise of employee-led D&I initiatives.
Last month, a manager at a Philadelphia Starbucks called the police on a pair of black men who were waiting in the store for a business meeting and had yet to make any purchases. A cell phone video of the two men’s subsequent arrest, which also captured other patrons’ outrage over the incident as it happened, quickly went viral and prompted a nationwide conversation about the racial profiling that black Americans often face in places of business. For Starbucks, which has sought to establish itself one of America’s most progressive employers, it has created a crisis, raising questions about whether this was truly an isolated incident and whether the roughly 40 percent of Starbucks employees who identify as racial minorities have faced hostility or felt unwelcome in the workplace—as many Americans of color have indicated in surveys that they do.
In an unprecedented response, Starbucks quickly announced an ambitious initiative in which it will close all of its over 8,000 company-owned US stores on May 29 so that nearly 175,000 employees can attend an anti-bias training. By conveying that the company takes this matter seriously and is committed to addressing it, the announcement won the coffee chain praise in the world of public relations, but from the perspective of HR—and Diversity and Inclusion more specifically—the standards for success are much higher and more difficult to meet. To make this response count as more than a PR spectacle, Starbucks will need to demonstrate that it’s not just making the right kind of noise, but actually making meaningful changes that are tangible to its vast numbers of nonwhite customers and employees. Furthermore, whether the initiative succeeds or fails, it stands to have an impact far beyond this one company. The stakes are high and all eyes are on Starbucks.
From the D&I research team at CEB, now Gartner, here are some points Starbucks should keep in mind in designing and deploying this anti-bias initiative—and for HR leaders at other organizations to consider in their own efforts to combat the insidious problem of bias.
Anti-Bias Training Should Encompass all Stakeholders’ Perspectives
To underscore the importance of this training, Starbucks announced that the curriculum would be designed with help from prominent experts in civil rights and racial justice, including former attorney general Eric Holder, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Sherrilyn Ifill, and Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. This A-list roster lends an extra dose of credibility to the initiative, but Starbucks might also consider engaging with the communities they serve to understand the experiences of their nonwhite customers on a more personal level. A great example of this kind of stakeholder-focused inclusion strategy is ANZ Bank’s accessibility initiative for people with disabilities, which involved stakeholders across the workforce, workplace, and marketplace in determining accessibility goals and how the bank would achieve them. (CEB Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council members can read the case study here.)
Starbucks could also benefit from bringing employees’ voices and experiences into the conversation as opposed to making this a one-way training exercise. To be fair to the staff, they’re often at the frontlines of how the public feels about the company (like the time that a Miami man was videoed screaming “Trump!” at a black Starbucks employee, or the “Trump cup” protest, or the “open carry” protest, or the annual “war on Christmas” protests). Starbucks doesn’t exist to serve the community in the same way as the police or the government, but the company has consistently worked to cultivate a brand image of its cafés as public spaces, which imposes a unique set of challenges for its front-line employees.
Treat Employees as Partners, Not Part of the Problem, in Combating Bias