Today’s digital work environment has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for working outside the traditional model of 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, chained to your desk. While some jobs will always require employees to be in a certain place at a certain time, communications technology now makes flexibility possible for most knowledge workers in terms of where, when, and how they get their work done, at least some of the time. Flexible work is attractive to many employees, but it’s more than just a perk: Many organizations are discovering that it can help drive important business goals such as engagement, retention, productivity, and inclusion. To that last point, flexibility is now seen as a valuable tool for helping working parents and caregivers manage their home obligations without sacrificing professional growth and career progress.
One company that has had a positive experience with flexibility is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which over the past ten years has evolved a culture of “everyday flexibility” that makes flexible work available to all employees, regardless of their role or circumstances. Anne Donovan, U.S. People Experience Leader at PwC, recently outlined what the company learned in this process at the Harvard Business Review. One key lesson, she writes, is to “be ‘flexible’ when creating a flexibility culture,” rather than implementing a rigid, formal policy:
Flexibility for a caregiver might mean being able to leave work early to take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment. For a parent, it might mean taking a midday run, so evenings can be spent with their children. And for others, it could simply be taking an hour in the afternoon to go to a yoga class and recharge. When we look at flexibility this way, it’s easy to see why formal rules actually hinder adoption and progress. It’s impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach for flexibility. We let our teams figure out what works best for them, as long as they deliver excellent work, on time. The rest is all fair game.
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.
As shown in a growing body of research, including our work at Gartner, companies that invest in diversity see bottom-line benefits including greater innovation and ability to penetrate new markets. Organizations that create inclusive work environments, furthermore, accrue more of these benefits than those that focus on diversity alone. But if inclusion is the key to unleashing the value of diversity, it can also be a heavier lift: Our research shows that most employees—especially frontline employees—don’t think their managers successfully foster an inclusive work environment.
Creating an inclusive environment means, in part, mitigating the impact of conscious and unconscious bias on talent processes like hiring, promotion, and performance management. Most organizations attack this challenge through anti-bias training, which can bolster employees’ confidence in diversity and inclusion efforts but often falls short of bridging the gap between increasing managers’ awareness of bias and actually changing their behavior. Training targets attitudes as opposed to actions, its effects diminish over time, and it requires significant effort and expense to implement at scale.
An essential lesson from our research is that best-practice D&I initiatives don’t just train managers in how to avoid bias, but actually embed bias mitigation into those talent processes. Accordingly, there is now a growing movement within the D&I community to complement anti-bias training with “inclusion nudges”: soft, non-intrusive mental pushes that help us make more objective decisions and affects predictable behaviors to make them more inclusive.
At Gartner’s ReimagineHR conference in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, Gartner’s Jeanine Prime led a panel discussion with Lorelei Whitney, Assistant Vice President Human Resources at Cargill; and Eric Dziedzic, Director, Diversity and Inclusion at Amgen, about their experiences implementing inclusion nudges at their organizations.
What does an inclusion nudge look like?
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.
As digital technologies become more prominent in how organizations work, employers are balancing the need for employees with digital and other hard skills with the need for employees with “soft” social, interpersonal, and communication skills. In fact, employers are increasingly prioritizing social and emotional skills; McKinsey, for example, predicts that skills such as communication, pattern recognition, logical reasoning, and creativity will be in high demand in the coming decades.
With these soft skills in high demand, Jake Bullinger proposed in a recent article at Fast Company that for-profit organizations consider hiring trained social workers to fill that need. Bullinger talks to Michàlle Mor Barak, a University of Southern California social work professor, who notes that companies today require expertise in societal good as they are increasingly under pressure to prioritize things like corporate social responsibility, work-life balance, and diversity and inclusion which weren’t on their radar a few decades ago. Social workers and other experts in social and emotional issues could be particularly helpful in people management and community engagement, Bullinger writes:
A human resources department staffed with therapists could better handle harassment claims, and recruiters working with social scientists could better target minority candidates. Corporate philanthropy arms would benefit, one can surmise, from case workers who understand a community’s greatest needs. The people best suited to run diversity and inclusion efforts might be those who study diversity and inclusion for a living.
I graduated with a master’s degree in social work in 2005 and have spent most of my career working in for-profit organizations. From my vantage point, social workers can provide an array of benefits, but organizations need to be realistic about what they can and can’t do.
Since taking up the position of CEO at General Motors in 2014, Mary Barra has undertaken to transform the culture of the storied American automaker. As the automotive industry and other legacy manufacturers find themselves increasingly in competition with big tech companies for talent—in Detroit’s case, a product of the race to market self-driving cars—they have had to expand their talent attraction strategies outside their traditional blue-collar comfort zone and reach out to candidates with very different expectations and values, as well as more diverse backgrounds.
Barra’s approach to culture change at GM has focused in part on simplifying rules and policies that might strike this new generation of talent as arbitrary and overly bureaucratic, such as the dress code, which she shrunk from a detailed section in the employee handbook to just two words: “Dress appropriately.” Barra told the story at the Wharton People Analytics Conference in Philadelphia last month, from which Quartz’s Leah Fessler passes it along:
After replacing GM’s 10-page dress code treatise with a two-word appeal, Barra received a scathing email from a senior-level director. “He said, ‘You need to put out a better dress policy, this is not enough.’ So I called him—and of course that shook him a little bit. And I asked him to help me understand why the policy was inept.” The director explained that occasionally, some people on his team had to deal with government officials on short notice, and had to be dressed appropriately for that.
According to our diversity and inclusion research at CEB, now Gartner, creating an inclusive team climate is just as important as improving diversity. However, organizations still struggle to determine what inclusion looks like for them. For many of us, the concept of diversity is concrete, but inclusion feels a lot less defined. D&I budgets are increasingly focused on leadership development and D&I leaders are making inclusive leadership a priority, but most employees don’t agree that their manager fosters an inclusive environment, and perceptions of inclusivity are lower further down the organization chart than they are among senior leaders.
In a session on building inclusive leaders at our ReimagineHR conference on Wednesday, we heard from Bob Lennon, VP of Industrial Components Business at Rockwell Automation; Aida Sabo, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Parexel; and Celeste Warren, VP of HR and the Global D&I Center of Excellence at Merck, about how they are defining inclusion for their organizations and implementing it in their organizational cultures. Here are some key ideas that came up in Wednesday’s conversation for how to encourage inclusiveness among leaders and the entire workforce:
Create a Common Language of Inclusion
The definitions of “diversity” and “inclusion” can vary across organizations and each leader and employee also may have a different interpretation of how these live within the company. The most successful organizations, however, define the D&I narrative for all their leaders and employees globally. By using a common vocabulary to communicate D&I efforts to the workforce, the organization can have a clear understanding of what inclusion means. Storytelling also can be an essential tool for communicating the success of inclusion initiatives, as it is important to know what metrics and success stories to share with leaders, employees, and external stakeholders to create transparency and accountability.
Make Inclusion About the Entire Workforce
Oftentimes employees who do not identify as a part of a marginalized talent segment feel excluded by D&I efforts, but according to our panelists, it is not only important to get these employees to buy into inclusion, they are in fact an essential part of these initiatives. Some employees get stuck because they don’t know where they are in their own journey of inclusion or recognize the significance of supporting D&I as an ally.