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HR’s role in ensuring D&I policies are genuine

During the pandemic, we saw companies rapidly introducing policies to adapt to the new working arrangements. However, when employees view company policies as insincere or performative, Catalyst research has found this has negative consequences for employee engagement and an individual’s intent to stay in a role.

In a study covering 14 countries, including the UK, we found that more than three in five employees (68%) said their organisation’s Covid-19 policies were not genuine.

For example, a company might have introduced a wellness programme to help with self-care and over-working but failed to address over-stretched workers dealing with an always-on culture.

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Similarly, following the global outpouring against racism after the tragic murder of George Floyd, some organisations introduced new racial equity policies.

However, only one in four (25%) employees said these were genuine. Organisations that took no concrete action to root out systemic workplace racism, despite displaying black squares on social media, were seen as worse than those doing nothing.

When employees did perceive their organisation’s policies as genuine, this led to many positive job outcomes including more engagement, the ability to balance work/life demands as well as their intent to stay.

Over 40% of millennials said they would be more loyal to a job where the CEO had taken a stand on a social issue; and when Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, announced a ban on social discussions at work in favour of an apolitical workplace in 2020, 5% of his employees quit.

To build inclusive cultures in the workplace, HR leaders need to create opportunities to talk about inequity and inclusion, and establish genuine inclusive policies that tackle inequities with rigour and transparency to promote fairness for all employees.

Led by HR, inclusive policies must be embedded in an organisation’s over-arching DEI strategy.

Senior leaders need to be equipped to role model inclusive leadership behaviours, particularly empathy, which is critical for employees to view inclusive policies positively, especially those from marginalised racial and ethnic groups.

A workplace where diverse voices are valued and rewarded creates the right conditions for high-performing teams and increases innovation and productivity.

Building an inclusive workplace, built on genuinely authentic policies, is no small challenge for businesses, but HR is in a unique position to affect change. An inclusive culture where all talent feels valued, have their voices heard equally and can thrive regardless of gender, ethnic background or sexuality should be a chief imperative for HR leaders. Notwithstanding, it’s also the right thing to do.

Tomi Isaacs is senior director at Catalyst