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D&I – throw out the quotas, here’s what really counts

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) should be much more than a statement on your website or a bullet point in your company manifesto. It’s the vehicle with which we can rebalance the inequalities in our country today. Are you ready to make the real change that genuine equality demands?

The need for, and lack of, D&I in modern business

Take a look at the world’s population, and you’ll see that every person making up our 7.8 billion is a little different from the last. Every individual is unique; with different likes, dislikes, backgrounds, interests, skills, and ambition. 

Now take a look at the people who occupy boardrooms and meeting spaces across the globe, and you’ll see a very clear homogeny. Despite the fact that humanity is diverse by nature, this diversity has been stamped out within the business world.

In junior and mid-level positions, certain demographics are more widely represented than others. And by the time we reach the C-Suite, the leadership seats are awash with homogeneous skin colors, gender identities, and even academic credentials.

And because the adage that “we cannot be what we cannot see” stands true, this forms a self-fulfilling prophecy — unless businesses commit to challenging the status quo.


Why organizations need to act now

Organizations are social mobility mechanisms: the income, status, and networking opportunities are all key to helping workers create the life they want to lead. But if some people are consistently passed up for jobs and promotions, then social mobility continues to benefit only a set demographic of employees.

Society is pushing for change (and businesses have to respond)

In recent years, a media spotlight’s been placed on a number of minority groups — groups that were historically marginalized from widespread attention. 

Black Lives Matter, #metoo, and the discussions raised by Brexit and Trump’s election, have helped society better understand how at risk and misrepresented many global citizens are today. And society’s response has been hard to ignore. With millions of people taking to the streets to protest LGBTQ+, gender, and ethnic human rights, D&I is firmly on the global agenda, whether leaders bear witness to it or not.

Meeting quotas is simply not enough

When the Equal Employment Opportunity Act was first introduced in the early 70s, the world was a very different place. Many male executives still had female secretaries typing away outside their doors, and only 53% of women were in employment. That figure was even lower for BAME workers, and there was little to no language to even talk about gender identity.

Despite there being more conversation than ever surrounding Diversity and Inclusion in society, many businesses are still operating in a very old school manner when it comes to D&I in their teams. In some ways, diversity quotas have been both a blessing and a curse.

You don’t “do” D&I in one round of interviews; you don’t settle it in an annual board meeting.

Why? Because many leaders rely on tick boxes to measure commitment and change. Worse still, some companies think the hard work is done when a diversity quota is met — when really that’s just the start of the journey.

And, crucially, it’s about making sure every employee has the same fair treatment at every touchpoint, from recruitment, hiring, promotion, and continual support throughout their career. But, for many organizations, it’s much easier said than done…

Why do (some) D&I programs fail?

To put it simply, a Diversity and Inclusion initiative will fail if managers and recruiters view it as having an endpoint. You don’t “do” D&I in one round of interviews; you don’t settle it in an annual board meeting.

For D&I to work in a company, there needs to be a commitment to long-term change. Unconscious biases need to be unearthed, recruitment practices need to be revisited, and the performance of those changes needs to be monitored, too.


Planning an actionable D&I program that really works

Before taking any steps at all, it’s important to get a sense of the work that needs to be done. This can help to move the conversation from theory to practice — from a well-meaning conversation to a set of actions that will actually be enforced.

Though it’s uncomfortable to face, we all have biases. And these biases can influence the people who are hired and promoted, and those that are rejected. 

A successful D&I policy is one that interrogates and reshapes existing recruitment and hiring processes. And moving past this stage, D&I needs to take a central role in on-going management processes if it’s to have any meaningful impact at all.

What really counts with D&I in the workplace is actionable systems that give a diverse array of people access to jobs and opportunities, while ensuring they feel their inputs are valid and valued, too.

Communication is crucial when fighting for change

More than just diversity of characteristics, diversity of thought, and a willingness to hear new points of view, are also vital when embracing Diversity and Inclusion. 

Does your workplace actively ask employees to share their thoughts and opinions? Or is this something that’s reserved for the leadership team alone? How will you know how your D&I efforts are paying off if you don’t speak to the people at the receiving end?

To be truly inclusive, organizations must make a considered effort to encourage individuality and the diverse ways of thinking that come with it. Plus, a wider variety of opinions means your organization will start to get a clearer picture of the real world and the opportunities that are out there. 

As you’ll see, this changing tide isn’t something to suffer through, but a great opportunity. After all, D&I can help to:

  • Revitalize talent pools
  • Inject new perspectives
  • And guarantee greater innovation (the more ways of thinking, the better!)

How to improve your D&I program (and set it up for success)

As important as this work is, the actual scope of D&I can be unnerving and demotivating. But every organization can improve its Diversity and Inclusion efforts, no matter the size of their HR team. Here’s how:

 1. Listen first, then act

Firstly, let’s set one thing straight: you don’t need to completely change every policy document within the organization. That kind of busywork will only distract you from what’s really on the agenda.

Instead, start by asking questions, listening to the responses, and acting on what you’ve learned. Make a conscious effort to ask interviewees and ex-employees about their experience with the organization, too. And make sure to feed these responses back into your D&I policies and goals. 

2. Start small with easy wins

Once you’ve gathered first-hand data, it should become clear what areas need to be improved. 

Again, rather than throwing out policies and starting from scratch, see what easy wins can be made first. We don’t mean ticking boxes and filling quotas, but making moves to create a culture with Diversity and Inclusion at its core.

Acknowledgment is a good first step — use company-wide emails to celebrate important days, like International Women’s Day or religious and cultural celebrations. And if you discover that existing employees of color feel marginalized, a POC committee can be formed, tasked with addressing people’s concerns.

3. Make inclusivity your priority 

Have your employees ever hidden something about themselves from the rest of the team?

Think about what practical measures you could put in place to make your staff feel comfortable carrying out their daily practices, whatever those may be and whoever may be asking. When done properly, inclusivity should impact every level within an organization, from recruiting potential employees, to the representation at the executive and board level. 

There must be company-wide buy-in, in not only understanding the importance of D&I but the commitment to make the necessary improvements, too. 

Lastly, remember that all kinds of diversity should be considered — even the ones that are less surface level, including differently-abled, neurodiverse, and socio-economic variations, etc.


Key takeaway: challenge the status quo and strive for support from the top

HR teams and hiring managers have the challenging task of championing this change. In many cases, support from the leaders of an organization is instrumental, and so engaging them in the conversation is key. 

Posing questions can force executive members to really take the matter to heart, like: “Can you list the factors that were out of your control, which helped you get to your position?” 

Likewise, asking employees “Do you think there are factors outside of your control that has inhibited your career progression?”. Put these answers side by side to really see the picture at hand.

We know that change can be difficult

D&I success can often hinge on the combined effort of many people. As well as the work that each company must do to solve their own D&I challenges, there are tools out there that can help. 

Platforms like Headstart improve diversity hiring by up to 18%, helping to combat prejudice and discrimination inherent in the hiring process. Plus, the heavy-lifting is alleviated from overloaded teams, as Headstart automates 81% of the recruitment process, saving an average of $2m per year in time saved. 

Book your demo today and see past D&I quotas, to plan for real, meaningful change in your workforce representation.

Headstart is on a mission to transform the way organisations hire! We are the world's first diversity driven Applicant Matching and Management System. We use Machine Learning and Data Science to transform the recruitment process, enabling clients to find the right high potential employees regardless of gender, ethnic status, sexual orientation or age.

With major brands like Accenture publicly supporting our mission, Headstart is already improving the recruitment experience for candidates around the world.

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