Diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of a global conversation right now. Commendably, a growing number of businesses are taking tangible steps within their talent management programmes – setting promotion targets and quotas, for instance – as a means of addressing disparity.
While this approach, with its emphasis on measurable results, provides an important means of tracking progress, it often falls short when it comes to furthering the fundamental cultural shifts required for meaningful and sustainable change.
The organisations leading the way on diversity are often those prepared to take a forensic look at their culture to discern invisible barriers – barriers that often prevent individuals from under-represented groups from accessing career opportunities and senior roles.
Research tells us that individuals who typically succeed are more likely to display certain traits, such as being highly confident, an extrovert, and skilled at navigating office politics. Those who are more introverted, and don’t naturally promote themselves can often be less visible.
To fully understand the visible or invisible barriers that may prevent minority groups - in particular women or those from black and ethnic minority communities - from accessing opportunities fairly, it can be helpful to start by reviewing your talent processes and employee lifecycle from the perspective of a diverse talent group. For example, who is making key recruitment decisions in your organisation? Are they representative of your employees?
So, if businesses are to unpick pervasive archetypes and reverse decades of group thinking around what the successful individual looks like, what should they do differently? There are five key steps to highlight that can help businesses support the progression of individuals from all backgrounds:
- Recognise the role that unconscious bias or systemic thinking might play in your talent management lifecycle – i.e. the mechanisms for promotion, progression, retention and reward. There can be unconscious perceptions that link ability with personality traits, such as confidence, and even physical characteristics, such as height. Articulating and spreading awareness of biases is an important task.
- Collect and analyse data around advancement opportunities, including those who are given access to project work or those who are promoted.
- Listen to and understand narratives around the cumulative impact of discrimination on individuals within under-represented groups. For example, an individual whose background includes racial abuse at school, along with a lack of access to privileged connections in the world of work, may be perceived as under-confident and perhaps also underperforming at work.
- Consider how day-to-day interactions might prevent employees from going on to be successful. What micro-behaviours or cultural nuances exist within the business that might set up barriers to individuals from certain groups?
- Put in place strategies and KPIs to ensure any measures you take are implemented in day-to-day activity and to make individuals accountable for the success of these measures.
Businesses have an imperative to measure, assess and review their progress to ensure that they are doing everything within their gift to remove barriers to opportunity. As Arun Batra, EY Partner and founder of the National Equality Standard observes: “There are incremental steps we can make to really try to develop individuals who haven’t so far had a chance to succeed. However, there is absolutely no point in starting this process unless we are also going to support these individuals.
“If you are prepared to wrap a lot of support around them, along with coaching, and accept that sometimes individuals may need time to settle into a role, then that person’s chance of success will be significantly enhanced.”
As the calls of diversity and inclusion become even more urgent, businesses potentially need to dismantle negative aspects of their own cultures, while implementing positive strategies for the promotion of under-represented employees. A framework for doing so and a mandate to listen will be important tools.
Alison Kay is EY UK&I Managing Partner for Client Service
Explore the effect of COVID-19 on diversity and inclusion, and how business can make diversity a priority at the fourth CBI Diversity & Inclusion Conference, 30 November - 1 December. Click here to secure your place.
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