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.”
Being both a “social issue” and a business concern, diversity and inclusion is one area where events in the corporate world can have a significant impact on society writ large: For example, just look at how businesses in the US have shaped the public conversation around issues like immigration, LGBT inclusion, and freedom of speech in the past two years. This dynamic works both ways, however, and changing conventions of how diversity is discussed in the academic and media environments can push organizations to rethink how they implement D&I on the ground. Recently, several new terms have entered this discourse that present new challenges (and opportunities) for D&I leaders to bring new dimensions to their work.
At Gartner’s ReimagineHR conference in Orlando last week, Gartner VP, Team Manager Lauren Romansky gave a presentation on three of these emerging concepts from psychology and sociology, and how D&I can leverage them as more than just buzzwords, to create value in their organizations. The terms are:
- Intersectionality: A holistic picture of identity, which asserts that various dimensions of diversity (such as sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, gender, disability, or socioeconomic status) are inseparable when considering individual experiences. For example, whereas women and black Americans both experience specific forms of discrimination and adversity, the intersection of these identities means black women in particular have a discrete experience that is more than the sum of its parts.
- Psychological safety: A shared belief that a team feels comfortable taking interpersonal risks. This means that team members are able to bring their authentic selves to work and communicate openly and transparently without fear of negative professional consequences. Psychological safety (a group dynamic) is different from trust (an individual dynamic), but can help build trust between team members.
- Belonging: A sense of acceptance and community within a given group. Over the past several decades, D&I has evolved from making sure historically disadvantaged groups are represented in the workplace (diversity) to making sure they are invited to participate (inclusion). Belonging can be thought of as the next step in that evolution, toward making sure these employees feel like full members of their workplace communities.
Bringing these ideas into D&I can help add value in various ways.
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.
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.