At the CEB’s ReimagineHR event in Washington, DC, last Wednesday, over 60 diversity and inclusion leaders and other HR leaders came together to discuss where their organizations were in their D&I journey and how best to continue advancing it. Participants in Wednesday’s session answered a series of live survey questions and engaged in a dialogue with panelists Nellie Borrero, Senior Global Inclusion and Diversity Managing Director at Accenture, and Karen Wilkins-Mickey, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Alaska Air Group, Inc.
The conversation focused on strategy and metrics as well as branding and communications. Although D&I leaders continue to face many of the same issues raised in last year’s peer benchmarking session, a few new themes emerged from the conversation on Wednesday:
1) D&I Leaders Must Align Their Efforts to the Organization’s Values
Gaining buy-in for advancing D&I is still a challenge for many D&I leaders. However, some organizations have found success by embedding D&I efforts into business objectives. When D&I is connected to initiatives or goals the organization already values, senior leaders come to see how it relates to their day-to-day work. One participant said their organization does this by tying measurements of diversity and inclusion to business results in order to communicate the impact of D&I on the business.
Organizations beginning their D&I journey may be tempted to move quickly to get to the more progressive D&I initiatives, but skipping foundational steps such as aligning D&I efforts to organizational values can slow down their ability to move forward in the future. “Don’t jump the gun in your D&I journey,” Wilkins-Mickey said. “Even if you are a senior D&I professional, if your company is new to this space, you need to meet them where they are.”
2) D&I Leaders Must Hold the Organization Accountable for Taking Action on D&I Initiatives
“Being labeled an agitator and disruptor is part of the D&I role, so if you’re uncomfortable with that you’re not going to move the needle forward,” Borrero emphasized. While 51 percent of Wednesday’s participants said they were just getting started raising leaders’ awareness of D&I accountability, about one fourth said they were using accountability to drive transparency among business units and leaders. For most organizations, transparency builds trust and trust creates a better organizational culture. Once an organization is publicly transparent, they have the responsibility to meet their D&I goals and priorities. Accenture, for example, has publicly communicated their goal of achieving gender parity by 2025 to hold themselves accountable for their D&I efforts.
Even fewer organizations are showing specific actions that leaders have taken to improve their metrics or tying leader D&I efforts to performance and compensation. One participant shared how their organization had gamified inclusion efforts by creating specific inclusion challenges leaders could take on and then share the results back to the broader organization. This gained leaders’ attention by using storytelling to communicate results. Now, examples of how leaders demonstrated inclusion are disseminated among their leaders, so they can learn from each other’s successes.
3) Responding to D&I Crises and Current Events Requires Proactive Planning
Organizations have been faced with many decisions, especially in the past few years, on how to respond to D&I crises and events outside the organization that raise public scrutiny of D&I issues. There is an increased expectation that organizations will respond to these events, especially in the US, as employees and customers want companies to take stands on important social issues. Over 50 percent of Wednesday’s participants said their current plan to responding to D&I crises was reactive. Organizations look at each individual event and impact and work internally to identify the best way to react. This requires the organization to have a clear stance on what their mission and values are with regard to diversity and inclusion, and to know who is responsible (D&I, marketing, communications, or all of the above) for crafting the response.
Participants agreed that they would like to move to a more proactive approach to crises. One organization has started by creating a decision matrix for leaders to use when choosing whether or not to respond to an event. Another organization has created safe spaces in their employee resource groups and other formal structures for employees to voice their concerns and emotions. Ultimately, however, organizations must evaluate their response each time a D&I event occurs to ensure that the response reflects their values.
4) Organizations Are Beginning to Make Efforts to Encourage Employees to Bring Their Authentic Selves to Work
Asked what attributes of the work environment were most important in ensuring that employees bring their authentic selves to work, most participants identified trust, acceptance, and safety as the key factors, while others mentioned transparency, belonging, honesty, openness, and respect. Our panelists shared how safety and belonging lead to employees being their true selves at work: Safety gives employees the confidence to be who they truly are, while belonging helps individuals see the culture of the organization as their own, which makes maintaining the success of the organization everyone’s responsibility.
CEB Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council members who want to learn more about creating an environment for employees to bring their true selves to work can attend our upcoming webinar on Creating a Psychologically Safe Work Environment for Diverse Employees on November 2.