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.”
Praxair’s approach to evolving its D&I strategy started in response to growing demand from its employees for a more diverse and inclusive workforce. In order to maximize the attraction and retention of diverse talent, Praxair decided to develop a talent strategy, as well as a diversity strategy, that matched their business strategy. Thereafter, Abrahams-John’s role as D&I leader shifted from that of a program director and events coordinator to a focus on consultative engagement. Consultation provided business leaders with an overarching D&I lens into the business strategy and support on how they could take action toward D&I outcomes. That changed their perspective on how D&I could partner with them, particularly in helping build transparency and goodwill.
Holding the Business Accountable
To sustain an evolving D&I strategy over time, our panelists knew they needed to hold the business accountable for D&I outcomes. While organizations have a variety of methods for holding leadership accountable, D&I leaders find the most success when these measures are aligned with the existing rhythm of their organization.
Alcoa does this by setting practical goals, sharing best practices, and rewarding success, McAdoo said. First, the company helps leaders set practical, meaningful goals that vary by location and business unit to best reflect unique consumer environments. As the D&I leader, McAdoo facilitates a team-oriented environment by creating a safe space for business leaders to share best practices for D&I and encourage other leaders to do the same. Finally, when business leaders meet their goals, they are rewarded with compensation incentives. Alcoa also leveraged many D&I accountability principles from Gartner’s case study about Volvo’s Composite D&I Index and Scorecard. (Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council clients can read that case study here.)
At Praxair, when business leaders first discussed accountability of D&I, they expressed a lot of fear about the concept of diversity quotas. To combat this fear, the company reassured leaders that accountability was meant to empower business units to set unique, aspirational goals. The D&I team communicated with leaders transparently, which reduced fear and allowed business leaders to feel psychologically safe to take risks to increase diversity and inclusion. The D&I function now acts as a consultant, alerting leaders when their metrics are not on track to meet their goals, and providing them with the support and resources to help reach them. HR business partners play a key role in tracking and advancing D&I performance across the organization.
In their concluding remarks, McAdoo and Abrahams-John encouraged attendees to share ownership of D&I with other leaders in their organizations and make it a business priority, not just a functional program siloed in HR. Building these partnerships will help ensure that D&I remains relevant and that the organization benefits from the full value of a diverse and inclusive workplace.