Flipping the narrartive on DEI
We need to flip the narrative on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
Traditionally, DEI is seen as focusing on those that are not in positions of power, such as gender, race, ethnicity. It is generally seen as the remit of human resources to manage, and is expressed through initiatives such as recruitment, training and measuring the percentage of specific social classification segments or categories within organisations.
Yet despite these good intentions they are not having the impact or desired effect for which they were initiated. This is evident through indicator metrics such as:
76% of companies having no diversity or inclusion goals
75% of companies not having DEI in their leadership development
40% of companies view diversity work as a way of mitigating legal, compliance or reputation risks
While this data paints limited traction, many companies will state that DEI is important and that there is benefit to be gained by having greater emphasis on initiatives. This is supported by the research that shows:
81% of companies state that DEI initiatives are beneficial
76% of applicants and employees rate DEI as important
51% of employees who resigned cited lack of inclusion as being a factor
It is clear that people and companies see DEI as important, with the real issue being a lack of "how" to make it happen.
In our discussions with companies, many view DEI as "nice to have" and an "optional extra" if they have time out of their business as usual activities. In our experience, this is usually the response given when people lack the capability to deliver. It may also be an expression of a particular way of working where anything new is considered as additional to the norm.
This is further compounded by defining DEI through the use of difference. In sociology terms, it creates a binary view of "us" and the "other". By advocating for greater DEI it is done so by spotlighting people based on (in general) a clear visual difference such as gender, ability or skin colour. In doing so, it further alienates and ostracizes everyone, thereby creating or reinforcing the divide based on difference.
The DEI narrative needs to be flipped.
The top performing people and companies have one thing in common: they unite. This is achieved by focusing on what we have in common, and muster support around a common goal or outcome.
The top performing companies know that:
their most valuable asset is their people
by leveraging ALL the skills and experience of their people they achieve better outcomes
by creating an inclusive or connected workplace (as opposed to siloed and divisive) greater insights, improvements and solutions can be achieved
focusing their human capital on a common purpose and achievements results in greater cut-through
This is why diverse organisations perform better.
Johnson and Johnson have a focus on "maximizing the global power of diversity and inclusion to drive superior business results and sustainable competitive advantage." One initiative that helps them achieve this is Diversity University which provides its employees capability building in understanding the benefits of collaborative working.
Mastercard embed DEI in their company DNA as they know it drives innovation, thereby helping them maintain and grow their market share. This is expressed through their motto"diversity driving insights, better decisions, and better products."
DEI is how companies successfully achieve sustainability in the marketplace. It is therefore a leadership issue and not the remit of human resources.
Essentially, DEI has to be more than just training, policies and practices. It needs to be an integral part of a company's DNA and how it operates. The change can be as subtle as expressing the way of working through a project, but has to be practical, pragmatic and integrated in how it works within an organisation.
Inclusivity is at the core of DEI.
It's about creating the opportunity for anyone and everyone to contribute to the success of a company's purpose; especially when that purpose is aligned with our own.
Marion is a highly experienced and accomplished strategy, innovation and leadership professional with a focus on the enterprise and government sectors. She is a trusted advisor to CEOs and senior executives, providing practical and pragmatic solutions to the challenges they face. Marion is the Managing Director at Azolla Holdings Pty Ltd, a Board member, thought leader and member of an international entrepreneur association.
Australian Institute of Company Directors, Company Director Magazine, October 2022, vol38, issue 09