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Diversity & Inclusion: What’s All the Buzz About?

Posted on December 19, 2019
Dawn LeckenbyWritten by Dawn Leckenby | Email author
how to build a successful diversity and inclusion program

The topic of diversity and inclusion is a hot one right now.  In fact, Helios hosted a sold-out event on the topic earlier this year. We had notable industry leaders come out and speak on what they are doing within their respective organizations on the topic:

  • Patsy Doerr (former head of D&I for Thompson Reuters)
  • Samantha Cicotello, Lead, Diversity & Inclusion, Technology of Capital One
  • Kim Davis, EVP, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer of NFP
  • Machelle Williams, Sr. Director, Diversity & Corporate Social Responsibility of Volkswagen Group of America

It seems like everyone is finally focused on diversity and inclusion and want to know how to get it right!

Diversity can have different interpretations. The obvious identifiers include an individual’s ethnicity, gender, and age, but it really goes a lot further. There are internal characteristics like gender, age, race, sexual orientation, and physical attributes and then there are external dimensions such as religion, geographic location, education, work experiences, hobbies, and personal habits. 

It is this combination of both external and internal factors that make each person different and allows us to offer our employers with diverse ideas and views. A person’s background, experiences, perspectives, ideas, and lifestyles significantly affect the impact they can have on their employer, and it’s the employer’s responsibility to welcome and accept these differences through inclusion.

Our keynote speaker, Patsy Doerr described it best, she said: “it’s the power of the collective.”

You might be wondering, why now?

Today’s social climate is ripe for this topic. We have societal challenges such as the #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter, along with the rise of gender equality.

From an HR perspective, we’ve seen the term diversity evolve over the years. In the 1960s, the focus was on EEO and not to discriminate when hiring; then, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we developed Affirmative Action to actively plan on diverse hiring.  The ‘90s gave us a broader definition of diversity to include religion and culture. And today, we’ve realized that we need to bridge the gap between the workplace and the world we live in. 

Organizations are finally realizing that with diversity comes a deeper and broader ability to solve problems and drive innovation.

A recent McKinsey study found companies in the top quartile for ethnic, gender and racial diversity have financial profits above their national industry medians.  An organization that is as diverse as the marketplace it sells to will be able to deliver innovative results. 

So, where do we start?

How to Build a Successful D&I Program

It Starts Top-Down

The biggest reason why diversity and inclusion programs fail is that it’s not a focus for the CEO. (Read that one more time and let it sink in.)

It must be an integrated part of your culture and not siloed by HR or your Diversity leader. Leadership should embrace employee differences and encourage inclusion by setting that tone from the top down and incorporating it into your values and throughout your management team. 

Take a look around your leadership table, does it reflect an inclusive and diverse team?

Open and honest communication will go a long way in fostering an inclusive culture. Communication allows for authentic relationship building and engagement. Management will be well served to make these voices and ideas heard and represent the under-represented.

Another inclusion tactic is open advocacy groups and idea forums, which can help create an atmosphere of openness and trust.  These are meetings where employees can be heard and feel safe expressing different ideas and viewpoints.  These groups will most likely foster open communication and often a healthy exchange of different opinions and viewpoints will most likely arise.  When a Manager attends, it not only shows employees that leadership cares about their opinions, but it can maintain the healthy tone of these meetings.

Recruiting Influence

As a Senior Recruiting Consultant, it is my responsibility to implement recruiting strategies that can affect diverse hiring for my clients.  It is so important for the recruiting team to be aligned with the organization’s strategic objectives and diversity goals and in the past, I have noticed it’s not always a core focus.  Recruiters are not only responsible for hiring talent, but should also be trusted advisors to their hiring managers with a full understanding of the current make-up of the team to encourage diversity. 

Looking at advertising and job tools will be as valuable as researching demographics and labor statistics to help locate target candidate pools.  It’s our role as recruiters to find out what pieces of the diversity puzzle are missing and then find those pieces. There are some great demographic sites that recruiters can access to increase their odds of finding targeted groups:

  • City-Data can help recruiters locate talent pools by accessing population data.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics will help direct a talent search by providing specific information that can shed light on unemployment rates grouped by industry.
  • When hiring new college grads, a company can access schools’ graduation rates by major and ethnicity.  

Boolean search techniques continue to be the fundamental tool in the recruiting arsenal when struggling with a “hard to fill” or looking for diverse candidate pools. Keywords can help to target certain groups during a search. Some examples can include military (veteran OR discharged), differently-abled (blind OR “visually impaired” OR deaf OR “hearing impaired”) and LGBT (gay OR transgender OR bisexual). These search strings can be expanded for further reach. 

Recruiters can also use associations during a search for minorities, for example, which can provide pockets of potential talent. Some of these could include the National Society of Black Engineers, Association of Latin Professionals in Finance and Accounting and National Asian American Telecommunications Association.  A little research will go a long way in finding the talent groups you’re looking for.

Avoiding Bias

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a minute to talk about bias. Bias is a quick way to derail progress towards your Diversity and Inclusion goals and can happen throughout the hiring process. It could show up during the sourcing and job ad phase or later in the process during the interview.

When it comes to sourcing, job descriptions and ads, be mindful of your phrases. For instance, phrases like “we’re looking for strong” or “who thrive in a competitive atmosphere” are male-biased while “nurture and connect with others” and “have a polite and pleasant style” are female-biased. 

Fortunately, there are a lot of great tools out there today that can help with predictive hiring and eliminate unconscious bias. As Recruiting AI tools continue to become more sophisticated and adopted, this will become less of an issue for organizations.

Interview bias can be subtle or blatant and can take the form of first impression error, stereotyping, and similar-to-me errors where the interviewer favors candidates who share similar characteristics or experiences with them.  Non-verbal bias places emphasis on non-verbal cues that are unrelated to job performance.

If you suspect there may be some bias existing on your team, perhaps you should consider unconscious bias training for your managers. As a leader, you also need to hold your teams accountable to your diversity and inclusion goals.

Measuring the Impact

Determine how you can best measure your progress and over what period of time. Also, be patient and recognize that national and international diversity and inclusion metrics are actually still being developed. Assess and reassess what metrics matter most to your business internally and externally, and then see what successes you can share or work towards improving.

An organization’s retention is probably one of the best ways to measure inclusion. If employees feel their ideas are heard and that they are a valued team member, they are more likely to stay. Conversely, if an individual is always feeling left out, invisible and voiceless, they are more likely to leave. Some programs that your organization can implement to show you are committed to diversity include:

  • forming a social and business community presence
  • attending diversity events and conferences
  • a track record of diverse promotions and high-level hires
  • career development and mentoring at all levels
  • the offering of non-traditional family benefits
  • diverse suppliers

When employees feel supported and included, barriers to individual success are removed. We do our best when we feel trusted and respected.  Inclusion is a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging. Employee engagement and inclusion are both critical to a company’s health, growth and longevity in the market.

Diversity and inclusion matter to your corporate culture, your brand, your bottom line, and your community too – and that’s what the buzz is about.

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