When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), companies across a broad spectrum of industries are having a clarifying moment. They are discovering that it is one thing to build diversity in their organization, but it is another altogether to develop the inclusion and equity needed to truly unlock the power of diversity.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) report Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion, “Roughly 80% of companies are just going through the motions and not holding themselves accountable.” Another study from the HR Research Institute found that many DEI initiatives are not achieving significant results, with just 9% of survey respondents rating their company’s DEI programs as highly effective.
Organizations must take concrete steps to establish the culture, processes and systems that enable the kind of authentic inclusivity and equity that stakeholders expect. When striving to create a culture of inclusivity, employee advancement is one critical piece of the puzzle that can truly demonstrate a company’s commitment to DEI.
Here are five ways that risk professionals, particularly those in human resources functions, can help their company make real and tangible progress toward greater inclusivity and equity:
Cultivate a culture of learning for shared understanding
Before we can look at specific management practices in employee advancement, we need to step back and consider culture and its impact on how people behave. To affect culture, employees need to have a shared understanding about what defines inclusivity and equity, what it means in practice, and what changes in behavior they may need to make to get there.
The best way to accomplish this is through the cultivation of a learning culture. In researching what inclusive companies have in common, Professors J. Yo-Jud Cheng and Boris Groysberg reported in the Harvard Business Review, “Among organizations rated as very or extremely diverse and inclusive, 14% had an organizational culture in which learning was the most salient culture style. In comparison, among organizations rated as not at all or not very diverse and inclusive, only 8% ranked learning as the most salient style.”
While there is no one-size-fits-all model for cultivating an inclusive learning culture, there are some basic ideas and concepts for accomplishing this. First, create awareness of the value that DEI brings to everyone in the organization. Second, ensure that education and training offer learning that is nuanced, relatable and inclusive of complex situations that will help employees and managers understand how to navigate difficult circumstances.
Finally, leverage education with complementary activities that help to build a culture of inclusivity, such as mentoring, sponsorships and employee support groups. A mixture of these efforts can culminate in a learning culture. This will set the stage to implement systems and processes that will affect the organization’s ability to develop and maintain more equitable employee advancement.
Create inclusive ways to identify qualified candidates
It is not unusual for companies to have sets of close-knit groups—that is a natural part of camaraderie that humans need and crave. But one downside of this is that managers and other decision-makers may inadvertently look to advance employees strictly within their own sphere. In addition, people tend to trust and gravitate toward others who are like themselves. The result can be the perpetuation of a closed culture that shuts off opportunities for other employees.
This can lead companies to a place of risk where underrepresented employees are overlooked, and a homogenous culture forms a barrier against greater inclusivity and equity. One step to breaking this cycle is expanding the ways in which qualified candidates can be identified.
Initial methods include enabling all employees to have awareness about the advancement opportunities available within the company and ensuring that managers think broadly and openly about who could be a fit for a new position. That means providing managers with guidance on how to make the most inclusive choices and carving out new systems and processes that help expand their view of possible candidates.
A related step is creating an inclusion council. Drawing insights from author and DEI expert Jennifer Brown, SHRM suggested forming a dedicated council of eight to 12 influential leaders who are one or two levels below the CEO. “Ideally, councils should be involved in goal-setting around hiring, retaining and advancing a diverse workforce and in addressing any employee engagement problems among underrepresented employee groups,” SHRM advised.