In a panel discussion at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in London last week, Birgit Neu, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at HSBC, and Eric Way, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Volvo Group, sat down with attendees to share their experiences evolving their organizations’ D&I strategies over time. Although Birgit and Eric come from different organizations with different D&I journeys, common themes emerged from their stories that offer some insight into how to run a successful D&I program. A key point both panelists raised was that D&I must be “red-threaded”—that is, consistently part of the entire employee experience, both on an individual level and in interactions with colleagues.
Birgit was HSBC’s first global Head of Diversity & Inclusion, which meant that her strategic direction was defined by the organization’s need to understand what work was already being done in the space of D&I at the organization. Her first tasks were to build that understanding and use it to create a central theme for how the organization would approach their D&I mission in a unified way going forward. Being closely aligned with the talent analytics function, she said, helped her and her team to assess the experience of the bank’s employees and identify opportunities for improvement.
One example she gave was about parents and caregivers: Many organizations assess the number of parents in the organization by how many individuals have identified dependents in the HR information system. At HSBC, however, Birgit and the talent analytics team were able to determine that when asked directly, many more individuals identified themselves as parents than the system indicated. This gave the company an opportunity to reconsider the experiences of the parents in its workforce and think about wellness communications in a different way. HSBC went back to employees to see if there was a difference between parents and caregivers, as they had previously lumped these groups together. They found that asking people these questions separately gave them a clearer picture of their employees’ needs and challenges, and have been able to work with the benefits team to ensure that communications are relevant and timely to each group’s needs.
The Volvo Group had an established D&I function for many years when Eric assumed his role, so his strategic priority was shifting away from building the business case for D&I and identifying champions, toward making D&I a more integrated part of business operations. One particular component of this strategy involved helping leaders improve their leadership capabilities through inclusion.
He discussed one particular initiative, Innovation Labs, that leaders were leveraging to build their emotional intelligence and improve inclusion on their teams. One lab, the learning lab, was designed for leaders to have a safe roundtable discussion with the D&I team where they can learn how to do something new, such as re-onboarding a direct report coming back from maternity leave in an inclusive way. This allows the leaders to ask questions and clarify their approach in a safe environment before implementing it on their team.
Another lab, the bounce lab, gave leaders the opportunity to learn from individuals elsewhere in the company about a diversity topic specific to their business unit. A leader would raise an issue, like “why are there not more women in leadership in my function?”, kick off the conversation by sharing their perspective, and then listen to others in the same situation without responding or suggesting solutions. Leaders at the end of the exercise would have to wrap up the session by articulating how the discussion had made them feel and acknowledging the perspectives of the individuals that had shared their experiences. This exercise served both to expose leaders to new ideas and perspectives and to underscore that these issues cannot be addressed by one person, overnight.