7 ways to take meaningful action on diversity and inclusion by our Head of Business Nuala Murphy as published in Business Post Ireland.
If I asked you to name five business buzzwords du jour, I’m willing to bet that diversity and inclusion would make the list. There’s nothing wrong per se with buzzwords – our first contact with a new concept might come that way, helping to disseminate important ideas – but they all too often lack meaning or lose power. We add business buzzwords to our websites, scatter them around the office and sprinkle them liberally throughout our corporate communications – without pausing to ask ourselves whether we actually mean what we say.
If you’ve proclaimed your commitment to inclusion without asking yourself some difficult questions about your unconscious bias, or implemented a diversity training programme without gauging what it’s like for people from under-represented groups to work for you, then there’s a chance you’ve fallen foul of the buzzword bandwagon. And as I’ve said, there are worse crimes. Banging the drum for diversity because it’s hip in the business world is better than not making a sound about it – but shouting into the wind ultimately serves no-one. Here’s how to bypass the buzzwords and walk the walk of building a more diverse and inclusive workplace without tokenistic gestures.
Understand the wider context
Gender and diversity aren’t issues that exist in a vacuum. The importance of equal opportunity in the workplace hasn’t drifted onto the business radar by accident. From Me Too to the Black Lives Matter movement, the experiences and sacrifices of people from under-represented groups have helped to shape the narrative that has brought us to this point. Take time to read and listen to those accounts and to amplify those voices that form the wider context of building a more equal society.
Don’t create office housework
Research undertaken in 2019 by McKinsey and LeanIn revealed that while women were stepping up as leaders in the workplace – as well as undertaking the majority of the work when it came to diversity, equity and inclusion – they were also suffering from burnout. Without male allies or champions, the work of advancing diversity and inclusion quickly becomes little more than office housework.
Recognise the legacy of the pandemic
The pandemic encouraged us to re-evaluate our lives so that people no longer just want a job with a big name employer and a good salary – employees place more value on balance, equilibrium and on impact.
Embark on a journey, don’t tick a box
I have had exposure at scale to many different companies at many different sizes, each on a journey with diversity and inclusion with different resources and competing business needs. I’ve seen that if you don’t have a senior level executive championing equality and shaping behaviour and culture, it’s not going to be embedded in the organisation and that means impact is limited. It’s not a tick-box exercise. It’s a journey that needs to be embraced from top to bottom and back again. We see a lot of employee of the month initiatives and photos of companies who are recognising the great work of their employee resource groups – and that is all good. But embedding diversity and inclusion is more than a health and wellbeing webinar, or a monthly celebration. It actually needs to be across the board to be successful.
Make it visible
Gender and diversity need to be championed and sponsored in the board room. Senior executives need to act visibly and noisily, spending time listening, communicating and representing the importance of diversity and inclusion at every level of the business, from resource investment to transparency in decision making.
Efforts to advance diversity must be measured and people need to be held accountable, whether that’s in performance, recruitment, decision making or hires and promotions. Equality is ultimately about ensuring different ways of thinking are represented in the room, whether you are making a product or providing a service.
Ask the hard questions
Inclusion and diversity are ultimately about everyone feeling they can have value and influence and bring their whole selves to work, if they choose to. It’s not just for numbers; it has to effect change. For all organisations with or without HR departments, it’s vital to ask difficult questions about where the organisation is at. Where does it want to go. How is it going to get there. And which behaviours and practices need to stop, what needs to continue and where to start.
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