Making diversity strategies appeal to everyone is a challenge. What are the best strategies to guarantee success?
The issue of diversity and equality is gaining momentum in many UK organisations. This is due to a combination of factors, such as increasing legislation, shifting demographics and employers’ concern to attract the most talented applicants from the widest possible pool.
Business research centre Roffey Park’s latest research into diversity looks specifically at how organisations can implement successful diversity and equality strategies. After interviews with a number of private and public-sector organisations we identified five stages in a successful diversity and equality strategy.
Often the biggest challenge in implementing a diversity and equality strategy is knowing where to start. Developing a vision that is meaningful for the organisation and stakeholders is the logical first step in deciding an approach. This is a particularly important task that can demonstrate the values of inclusion and equality in the process chosen and the people involved.
Diversity strategies can generate a backlash from some employees who have trouble relating to their purpose, as Donna Halkyard, diversity manager at Ford Europe suggests.
“Making sure that diversity and inclusion is appealing to the whole cross-section of the workforce is very important,” she says. “You need to get everyone involved and help them to see the what’s in it for me.”
It is therefore vital to get a shared understanding of diversity and equality and to ensure that the strategy is relevant to every employee. The vision must also encompass both employees and customers or service users.
All too often, organisations adopt a scattergun approach to diversity and equality that is not tied in to the organisation’s overall strategy and objectives. Policies are introduced but make little difference because they are either not linked with key business objectives or not followed through with actions. Perhaps this is unsurprising because, frequently, little measurement and evaluation of progress is tried.
Organisations need to adopt a strategic approach to diversity and equality, with a long-term focus and clear link to business objectives. “If it impacts on business priorities and key deliverables there is more chance of sustained change,” points out Charlotte Sweeney, head of diversity at the bank HBOS.
Adopting a systemic approach is also important because the more the strategy covers every aspect of organisational life, the more likely it is to start to change attitudes and behaviours.
The role of integrating diversity and equality into the business is not something that HR or diversity practitioners can do alone. Influencing the right stakeholders is particularly important, as is building up networks inside and outside the organisation. The more people are involved, the more sustained the work is likely to be.
Mainstreaming diversity and equality into general business strategy is a primary aim for most organisations that show a commitment to the issues. If diversity and equality strategies are to be successful they need to have senior level leadership, involvement and support. Leaders need to motivate others to be part of the leadership on this subject and see it as part of their personal day-to-day performance.
In addition to senior level leadership, organisations need to develop shared accountability. Creating structures such as steering groups and diversity councils that all levels of employees can participate in have been helpful for many.
In order to make real progress in this area, organisations must move beyond the rhetoric of policies and aim for real behaviour and culture change. Learning and development that is practical, contextualised, directly applicable to individual roles and engages hearts and minds is likely to impact positively on attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.
Effective communication and consultation channels and supportive practices and policies (such as diversity awards, flexible working and mentoring) can also help to create an inclusive culture where diversity and equality is seen as relevant to all employees. Our research suggests that good leaders on diversity and equality issues are seen as authentic, congruent, humble and courageous, and organisations should focus on developing and encouraging these characteristics. If they do, some research suggests they will be developing effective leaders per se.
Measurement is vital in ensuring the success of diversity strategies because ‘what gets measured gets done’. This is typically an area that gets missed or is seen to be intangible and difficult to measure. Consequently the link between workplace diversity and financial success is not always immediately apparent, nor is it always linear.
However, the organisations featured in this research spend a lot of time measuring and evaluating their diversity strategies. Perhaps this is why they have made so much progress in this area. They use tools such as reviewing and reporting, inspections and audits, performance management, management information and benchmarking with other organisations to measure and evaluate progress. Softer measurements are also important in evaluating initiatives such as seeking staff feedback through focus groups and surveys and finding out how diversity and equality is viewed by managers.
There are strong moral, legal and business cases for focusing on issues of diversity and equality in the workplace. Demographic and societal changes are likely to continue, and as organisations move towards operating more globally they can no longer afford to bury their heads in the sand. It is imperative that organisations understand the diverse society in which they operate and the diverse needs of their employees.
Successful diversity and equality strategies therefore should incorporate and continually develop the five areas emphasised in the research guide: developing a vision, taking a strategic approach, sharing ownership, changing behaviour and measuring and evaluating progress.
Developing a vision
- When formulating your vision try to use as plain a style of language as possible so as not to exclude or marginalise anyone
- Make sure diversity and equality is relevant to all employees
- Ensure your vision encompasses both employees and customers/service users
Taking a strategic approach
- Adopt a strategic, systemic and planned approach to diversity and equality
- Link diversity and equality into the organisation’s business objectives and strategy
- Ensure that your strategy touches every aspect of organisational life
- Build support/accountability for diversity and equality across the business.
- Integrate diversity and equality into the business so that it becomes a mainstream issue owned by all.
- Senior-level leadership, involvement and support are essential.
- Encourage people across the business and at senior levels to champion diversity and equality issues.
- Focus on learning and development at a deeper level, use tools such as acting, videos, e-learning, debating forums so that people can really get to grips with the issues.
- Good communication helps to build a supportive and inclusive culture. Use different communication methods to talk about diversity and equality such as team briefings, internal magazines, staff events and activities and intranets.
- Ensure your leadership development strategies develop authentic, congruent, humble and courageous leaders. Your whole business is likely to gain as a result.
Measurement and evaluation
- Set objectives upfront when implementing diversity and equality strategies.
- Monitor progress against these objectives on an agreed periodic basis.
- Tie diversity and equality objectives into the performance management system so that individuals are assessed against this in their appraisals.
- Build up a picture of what success around diversity and equality will look like in the future.
Diversity and the HR profession: head to head
Claire McCartney has a degree in English and Sociology from the University of Kent and a Masters degree in Information Studies at the University of Brighton. She has been involved in a variety of research projects including Roffey Park’s Management Agenda, and looking at work-life balance, flexible working, talent management and diversity.
Adrian Lock has worked for charities in Europe, Africa and the Middle East before gaining experience in UK central and local government management and training. He developed an organisational standard known as ‘Investors in Equality’, which featured in two national journals. He has completed more than 25 reviews of people management strategies in organisations of 50-1,200 employees and co-leads Roffey’s diversity and equality group.