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Five top tips for steering a safe course through the diversity dilemma

The beginning of the lockdown saw many diversity and inclusion (D&I) leaders fall into the 'non-essential' category and laid off.

But the Black Lives Matter movement has ensured D&I is now firmly back on the risk register – where it always should have been – for business leaders everywhere

However, although we're now seeing swift reactions and the internet covered with statements and pledges, it will be in six-to-12 months' time that we see which organisations mean what they say – and which don't.

The morality of the issue means it's an essential element of any business strategy – but there's also the increased risk to an organisation's brand, not to mention the proven argument that having a diverse group of people working in an inclusive environment drives better results.

Far from being seen as non-essential, there is now a clamour for D&I expertise. But it needs to be a clamour with a plan and the things that need to be addressed remain the same. These span from accountability for change and measurable action to an overhaul of internal processes, making everyone an 'ally' and ensuring procurement teams are driving change.

Quotas are important – but only if you already have an inclusive culture. They will make no difference at all in organisations where a toxic environment is allowed to reign supreme.

Training is also not enough on its own. For it to make a difference, leaders need to be pulling the major levers that should sit behind training initiatives. They need to understand that diversity is a strategic issue – and, right now, a business risk.

So, what steps can organisations take to rise to the challenge and position themselves as world-class D&I leaders?

1. Ensure the C-suite understands that diversity is a business issue – and, right now, a business risk. Frank, no-holds-barred conversations are required. The senior team should be backing the CEO to ensure we have no more false starts and window dressing.

2. Creating inclusion should be part of any performance review. Ask every people manager in the organisation: "What have you done to drive inclusion and what evidence do you have?" The hard bit is weighting this – and rewarding for it. Individuals' activities also need to be measured – and they need to be helped to change things, where necessary.

3. Get procurement involved. Any organisation that is a vendor to anyone right now is vulnerable to a procurement policy that forces them to demonstrate inclusion. It's crucial to avoid waiting until it's too late.

4. A strategic D&I plan covering three-to-five years is required for most businesses. It should be as robust as any profit and loss plan – and be both invested in and held to account. Leaders also need to be prepared to be vulnerable. If they don't believe they are part of the problem, nothing will really change.

5. Create an inclusive culture so that everyone in the organisation who wants to succeed can do so. Leaders need to dig a little deeper rather than just saying they want to support a gender equality initiative because they have a daughter.

Educate yourself a little further. Be aware and explore what broader take on diversity sits with who you are as a leader today. Not who your parents were, not what your school taught you – what you stand for.

Angela Peacock is CEO of diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global