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The leadership disconnect: acknowledging DE&I and taking action

Although a significant majority of HR directors and CEOs recognise that employee demands for diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are a major concern for their business, according to Barnett Waddingham research, only a small minority have actually translated their concern into action.

This is all the more problematic considering the potential long-term consequences that neglecting DE&I creates, especially on retention and recruitment.

Complexities magnify, bearing in mind younger generations are more concerned with social justice than ever, so not investing in effective DE&I strategies could quickly lead to talent churn and reputational damage. In an era where employees are not afraid to use social media to highlight organisations that don’t meet their expectations for fairness and inclusion, leaders are right to be concerned.

Jeremy Hunt is wrong: DE&I is mission critical for British business

So how to move ahead? 

Look beyond short-term costs

While navigating economic pressures is crucial, overlooking DE&I initiatives solely based on immediate cost concerns can be detrimental in the long run. Apart from the risk of reputational damage, it is widely recognised that diverse teams promote innovation, enhance problem-solving capabilities and cultivate positive workplace cultures, so investing in DE&I contributes to organisational success. Building a workforce that reflects and leverages societal diversity will better equip a company to thrive and remain sustainable.

Small changes can start to make a big difference

In today's talent-scarce market, attracting a diverse pool of candidates is paramount and requires crafting inclusive and non-discriminatory recruitment processes. For example, the impact of neurotypical recruitment processes on neurodiverse talent is a hot topic, so as HR specialists, inclusion goes much further than hiring talent from under-represented groups. We need to be looking at the entire recruitment process, from job descriptions, to interviewing, to onboarding, to ensure these are as inclusive and equitable as possible to actively attract and retain a diverse workforce.

Building fairer recruitment through D&I policy

Improving awareness – and understanding – of the reasonable adjustments organisations can make significantly improves experiences for under-represented groups. This begins with the recruitment process as it is the first experience someone will have of the culture of the business.

It doesn’t have to include complex changes; it can be as simple as understanding that, perhaps, for example, a neurodiverse candidate may require different resources to complete an interview task. They may feel more included if provided detailed information on what to expect from the whole interview process, from how to get there to who to meet. Small changes like this can make a significant difference to a candidate’s experience. 

Prioritising investment in training is also key to ensure managers and employees understand how they can personally improve inclusion and embed DE&I strategies in the workplace. Every employee plays a role in making environments more inclusive, but this requires cultural focus, ongoing education and swift responses to micro-aggressions or poor behaviours.

Companies that embrace and invest in authentic DE&I strategies are likely to gain a competitive edge, but there are things that every organisation can do that don’t require great expense.

Inclusion could benefit from good relationship habits

Introduce inclusion working groups to plan events and activities that help raise awareness and keep inclusion front of mind. These groups should include a cross section of employees to contribute their ideas and personal experiences. Cultivating a supportive and inclusive environment, regardless of individual characteristics, helps develop employee potential and leads to increased engagement and productivity. Making small changes to ensure everyone feels they have a voice and representation can make a significant impact. 

Building a competitive advantage through DE&I leadership

While measuring the impact of inclusivity can be challenging, leaders seeking a positive return on investment of their initiatives can leverage technology to collect and analyse relevant data. For organisations to genuinely prioritise DE&I, they need a comprehensive understanding of their workforce. This includes utilising insight sources, like employee relations data, combined with DE&I metrics to better understand any impact on under-represented groups. By taking a data-driven approach, organisations can identify areas that require attention and make meaningful changes.

Investing in the future: building a stronger, more resilient workforce

Companies committed to effective DE&I strategies will be better positioned to navigate future challenges and emerge stronger. By nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce, they gain access to a wider range of perspectives, ideas and experiences, helping to create agile, adaptable workforces that can respond quickly to opportunities and challenges.

By Hayley Saunders, HR technical consultant at AdviserPlus