4 Traits of a Successful Diversity and Inclusion Programme

Diversity and inclusion are the hallmarks of a progressive and adaptive organisation. Successful implementation requires more than just numbers. Find out how.

The case for a diverse workforce is stronger than ever. According to a study by McKinsey in 2019, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability. Likewise, in the case of ethnic and cultural diversity, top-quartile companies outperformed the others by 36% in profitability, an increase from previous years.

Research shows compelling evidence that diversity in the workplace is essential to improving profitability, retaining top talent, and encouraging innovation. But, there is more to diversity than just headcounts or policies. Companies need to create diversity and inclusion programs that successfully combat unconscious biases to create a more equal workforce.

How do diversity and inclusion differ from each other?

Diversity and inclusion are interconnected, but not interchangeable concepts. Diversity refers to the makeup of the organisation, while inclusion considers how well the policies introduced by companies integrate employees into the environment.

A workplace with employees coming from various backgrounds, races, nationalities, and genders may be diverse but it doesn’t mean that it is inclusive. One that is inclusive considers the participation and contributions of every employee equally.

As Juliette Austian, Senior Diversity Equity & Inclusion Strategist at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, notes, “Inclusion is what makes diversity stick.”

1. Record and compare data over time

Like any business objective, diversity goals need to be measured to assess the effectiveness of integration. By recording and monitoring data collected over time, companies can then analyse and compare against numbers from other organisations.

On top of improving transparency, this also holds leaders accountable for better goal setting and performance improvement. Having the data plotted against a chart with progress and challenges identified creates behavioural standards that account for meaningful results.

2. Reevaluate policies that impact diversity and inclusion

Looking within is one way to begin impacting real change in diversity initiatives. One way is through highlighting blind spots in internal policies such as employee referral programmes or big-picture elements like company culture.

Employee referral programmes serve as an excellent sourcing tool for qualified talented candidates but may often result in referrals that are very much similar to the referee, in terms of background, gender, or ethnicity. Although unintentional, this could adversely impact diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Likewise, preferences towards values that may be personal to employees such as favouring certain holidays may alienate others from applying to the organisation. Only celebrating Christmas is one such example.

By digging deeper into existing policies, companies can actively begin championing the commitment to a more inclusive workplace through noticeable steps.

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3. Recognise that the program needs to be adaptive

Intersectionality is a recurring theme in diversity and inclusion programmes. Characteristics such as race, gender, and disability may intersect more than once for some employees. This leads to some experiencing a combination of biases or one bias more particularly than others.

Given the fluidity of the matter, companies must develop a program that is adaptive to their employees’ needs. Through anonymous feedback loops, personalised solutions, and frequent audits, companies can create a sense of belonging without risking tokenism or preferential representation.

4. Reinforce intrinsic motivation to push for diversity

The problem with satisfying diversity numbers is the signalling of false progress.

Middle and upper-level managers may promote an employee or classify a job as a managerial position to improve diversity numbers, but this shortcut damages inclusivity objectives. Because companies value diversity, motivations to fulfil certain criteria may be extrinsic, rather than intrinsic.

Diversity and inclusion programs in the workplace need to reinforce intrinsic motivation to actualise change around equal representation, participation, and contribution. Beyond matching numbers, concerted efforts need to be made towards a genuine celebration of diversity.

The global workforce is one that is significantly diverse. However, companies can be diverse without being inclusive. Diversity and inclusion are exclusive terms that work in tandem to create a workplace that is respectful and welcoming of differences. Integrating efforts in day-to-day operations is key to widening the diversity bracket and retaining talent.

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