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Time for action: How to implement an effective DE&I strategy in 2021

Peakon’s Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Sheree Atcheson

While born out of a truly tragic event, the globalisation of the Black Lives Matter movement may have been the one redeeming feature of 2020. As a result, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) has become a top priority for business leaders, who are now looking for assistance in developing and implementing DE&I strategies. This is reflected by the substantial spike in DE&I focused roles posted on LinkedIn in May and early June, shortly after the movement.

As this momentum continues, DE&I professionals now have a real opportunity to drive change within their organisations. The first step is to create an effective strategy. While any approach needs to be tailored to the unique needs of an organisation – I’d advise any DE&I leader to strongly consider these three themes: Engage, Educate and Action.

Engage your workforce in the DE&I conversation

First of all, leaders need to rally their entire organisation to engage in DE&I efforts. Ensure business goals are DE&I goals are linked. Company-wide channels, including all hands meetings, Slack and Teams groups, can be hugely helpful in reaching everyone.

But, leaders also need to consider how they reach people in smaller groups or individually. Formalised DE&I focus groups can be useful as they bring together employees from a range of backgrounds and enable leaders to stress-test potential DE&I initiatives from diverse perspectives. Even smaller Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) can also help ensure each employee is heard. These provide a safe space for underrepresented groups to voice any concerns and highlight their priorities.

However, it’s also important to give all employees access to a platform like ours that allows them to leave regular and confidential feedback and insights. This means every employee can safely put forward their view – even if they feel uncomfortable sharing it publicly. Psychological safety is key here.

The goal is for every employee to find their culture and values reflected in the ethos of the organisation. Something as simple as creating a company-wide calendar to highlight events and festivals across cultures, ethnicities and identities can help here. Bringing together employees to celebrate or support a particular event is a great way to engage them in DE&I objectives more generally – and create a collective sense of ownership.

Educate on key issues to challenge and remove any unconscious biases

Education is key to any successful DE&I strategy – and this needs to happen across all levels of an organisation, including senior leadership. Biases are often unconscious and more often unchecked, so people need education on identifying them in the first place, and this may mean shining a hard light on the inequities of society that have permeated many of our thought-processes and decision-making.

This is where collecting company-wide, anonymous data is essential so that you can really understand the health of DE&I in your organisation. Once you’re clear on that, education on topics such as privilege awareness, anti-racism and allyship is a good next step. Sessions should be mandatory for all and complemented with online learning paths.

Engaging with your hiring teams and interviewers on these topics is important too, as these people are the gatekeepers for all new talent entering the organisation. Recruitment must be well-rounded and free from bias – otherwise how will organisations achieve and retain diverse workforces? DE&I education should also be central to all onboarding programmes so that employees recognise its importance right from the outset. Analysis should be done on your hiring process to understand where/if people from underrepresented groups are falling out of the pipeline and intervening as needed.

It can be useful to create and distribute an internal handbook to provide a permanent record of all DE&I reports, toolkits and policies. This needs to be made available to the entire company so that everyone can digest and reference it at their own pace.

Take data-led action to ensure long-term success

Employers can only create truly diverse and inclusive environments by first analysing and challenging their own processes. Designing a strategy without first doing this is equivalent to building a house without foundations – or worse, rotten ones.

Data is the great enabler here. By analysing trends in hiring or promotions data, employers can see straight away if they’re demonstrating preference to a particular group of people. Once this data is collected, it needs to be reviewed from diverse perspectives to avoid injecting any kind of bias into the analysis.

Equipped with quantitative and qualitative insights, DE&I leaders can set about developing a blueprint for change and measure the efficacy of their actions. If they find that their hiring process often targets individuals from similar backgrounds, for example, they can look at ways to widen the recruitment net and putting in place strategies such as the Rooney Rule, to ensure time and effort is spent in widening the pipeline and interviewing all qualified candidates, before making a hiring decision.

The guidelines above are just a starter-pack for those with DE&I responsibilities looking to implement a successful strategy. There are of course other things that need to be considered, such as how well any initiatives and policies translate to the virtual world of work many of us are now in.

It all comes down to listening intelligently to each employee. Employees must be given the opportunity to share their views and concerns – and leaders must be transparent on how these have fed into their DE&I strategy. This is crucial for ensuring that your employees come on this journey with you, and power your organisation through real transformational change.  

By Peakon’s Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Sheree Atcheson

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