DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) becomes a more prominent topic in the business world nowadays. From both the business and the ethical perspective it makes sense to focus on it. Firstly, a business argument is based on research which shows that inclusive diversity will lead to more productivity. Inclusive diversity is not just focussing on diversity numbers, but having diverse people with different backgrounds who are seen as and they are valued for it. More perspectives are considered, making the organisation more agile to handle today’s complex business problems. Furthermore, in the current war for talent, lots of openings can’t seem to be filled. Therefore, when tapping into a more diverse talent pool and recruiting other profiles than your usual suspects will give your organisation a competitive advantage. Secondly, from a societal perspective, we reached a point where we cannot be neutral anymore in the social justice debate. We have pressure from our stakeholders to show the wider society that you have a moral conscience. Besides, people start to leave when they don’t feel included or valued, which leads to a brain drain in organisations. A brain drain is the emigration of highly trained or qualified people from a particular country to another where they seem to be valued more.
So, concentrating on going into the inclusion mode is beneficial for organisations. This becomes especially important to focus on explicitly in times of economic liability as we are in today. We cannot go into survival mode -where automatic responses are favoured and discrimination rises.
3 tips From Smaranda Boros to introduce effective DE&I initiatives
We invited an expert on the topic, Prof. Dr. Smaranda Boros, to give us some tips and tricks on how companies can best install effective DE&I initiatives. Boros is an Associate Professor of Intercultural Management & Organisational Behaviour and the head of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team at Vlerick Business School. Here are her 3 take tips to install effective DE&I initiatives:
1. Storytelling: WHY
Simon Sinek argues with his ‘golden circle’-theory that organisational change is only effective when the WHY, HOW and WHAT of the project is clear.
Start with WHY, the heart of change, and make this a strategic priority. Define through storytelling what diversity, equity and inclusion mean to your organisation, and how it fits with your mission and strategy. Make it a priority and invest time, recourses, energy, and money in it! Let your people know that the initiatives are beneficial for EVERYONE in the organisation!
When the interventions are framed as if they are only for minorities, you will always encounter resistance and a low ROI. This will happen since you create an ‘us versus them frame’. DE&I initiatives need to be inclusive in themselves. Stress that they will relieve pressure on every single group -so also the majority group- to conform to a very narrow understanding of behaviour and performance is wanted. In this way, broader options of success and how you get there are installed, which have a very strong link to wellbeing and mental health.
Once the WHY is clear, go over to the HOW. How are you planning on concretely installing your DE&I initiatives? Questions like "who is necessary for this project to be effective" and "what resources are needed" should be asked and answered.
Lastly, and definitely not first, WHAT specific initiatives you are implementing where and when? Let people personalise the initiatives so they are really motivated to bring them to a good end. In this way, a ripple effect will come to be where you see that people start initiatives on their own. Important is that the WHY needs to be clear before this can happen.
2. Combine top-down and bottom-up perspectives
For DE&I initiatives to be effective, organisations always need to see the big picture, but they should start from where they already are. So, when implementing these initiatives, it needs to be both from a top-down and bottom-up point of view. The top-down perspective comes from the top management. The executives need to make the initiatives part of the strategy and communicate why they put them in place! Without this, the DE&I initiatives do not have enough support and are doomed to fail. The top-down perspective comes from the top management. The executives need to make the initiatives part of the strategy and communicate why they put them in place! Without this, the DE&I initiatives do not have enough support and are doomed to fail. A bottom-up perspective happens at the level of the employees. It means that they can build the initiatives further on what is already in place and capitalize on interests that already exist. This means for example that you can find your “activists” or ambassadors who are already interested in DE&I through a dialogue you start on the topic. They will start talking to others, who then also can become engaged. You can encourage your ambassadors by asking where they want to work and what fits with the corporate strategy. Give them the space to see what they want to do and what gives them energy.
3. Keep on going
One-off projects are irrelevant when trying to implement a DE&I strategy in the long term. You can see the initiatives as a sort of organisational change, you need to continuously put effort into the project and keep people informed and engaged about it in order to be successful. Moreover, you need to expect disappointment and backlashes along the way. Reminding everyone of why the DE&I project will benefit everyone in the organisation is then key. Furthermore, there will be some initiatives that will simply not work out in your organisation. See this as a learning opportunity and keep trying to reach your goal, don’t let this one setback hold you up. It is just like Oliver Goldsmith said, “Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.”
Are you inspired to introduce effective DE&I initiatives and become a Great Place to Work?
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