The Black Lives Matter movement ensured diversity, equity and inclusion was firmly back on the risk register for business leaders around the world. The internet was covered with statements and pledges – and, rather than being seen as non-essential, DEI expertise was suddenly in demand.
This was no surprise. The morality of the issue means DEI is an essential element of any business strategy – but there’s also the increased risk to an organization’s brand, not to mention the proven argument that a diverse group of people working in an inclusive environment drives better results.
However, in the face of recession fears, rising inflation and post-pandemic supply chain disruption, are we in danger of seeing commitment drift? There are already signs that companies are putting what they view as core business in the centre of their strategy – not their employees.
What’s worse, a study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that women and minorities are disproportionately affected. Companies see a 9 – 22 percent reduction in white and Hispanic women, as well as a dip in Black, Hispanic and Asian men, on their management teams when they cut positions.
But, with the right approach, it is possible for learning professionals to ensure a proactive and ongoing commitment to DEI without breaking the bank. Some simple, practical steps can make all the difference.
All too often, making stakeholder commitments is easy – but sticking to them can be harder than expected. Having a strong plan, systems and processes in place can make all the difference. Implement a commitment scorecard to ensure that promises are kept. It can be as simple as taking a promise inventory, tracking the measures over three months – including an employee survey – and setting a meeting to review the scorecard and plan moving forward. That will help keep senior leaders on track, especially now.
Layoffs seem to be almost commonplace today. These decisions are a minefield for any company, and it is crucial to ensure they are made fairly. Provide managers with the appropriate tools and training on how to have career discussions – with a reminder on how to be inclusive if the time comes for them to decide who to let go. In addition, this might be a time to create more frequent touchpoints with managers and their teams. To effectively make layoff decisions, managers need to have a clear view of what all employees are contributing, the strengths they bring to the team, and overall performance against clear metrics and yearly professional goals.
Supporting employees during difficult times is another area where the right tools and training can make a big difference. Encourage managers and DEI leaders to hold listening sessions, for example, and provide resources on mental health. And equip middle managers with the tools to have ongoing conversations on topics such as minimizing micro-aggressions or building team inclusion.
Linking bonuses, and opportunities for promotion, to DEI commitments can keep the momentum going. Even simple steps can help – creating a psychologically safe space for all employees to feel included, for example, or implementing a no-interruption rule in meetings. Another useful technique is asking for 360° feedback and being open to hearing how they can manage that team or individual in the way that works best for them.
Over the past few years, many companies have rolled out unconscious bias training, often with little engagement – and leaders have walked away thinking that was a job well done. But basic change management principles make it clear that change comes from consistent reinforcement over time – and doing the work on inclusion is not exempt. Since digital content is infinitely scalable, training professionals should consider implementing digital inclusion content into learning management systems or providing access to an external resource – giving employees a path and opportunity to learn more in their own time.
It is common for individuals to revert to old habits and unconscious biases during times of pressure – especially stressful layoffs – which poses major risks on a macro level for organizations across all sectors. A recent study by Deloitte made it clear that performative commitments, such as an increased representation of non-dominant employees and short-lived programming, can create workforce distrust and lead to a decrease in retention. This is reflected in worker perception. Nearly 40 percent of total respondents – including 41 percent of ethnically or racially diverse respondents and half of LGBTQIA+ respondents – also believed that this commitment drift is likely to happen.
The last thing any company needs, especially in difficult times, is a public scandal or backlash for, quite literally, not putting their money where their mouth is, and upholding promises made to their employees, customers and communities. It is time to double down strategically to ensure all employees know how much they are valued.