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Workplace DEI as a collective effort
You’d be hard pushed to find an aspect of HR that’s undergone quite as much transformation as diversity. Having moved from a ‘buzzword’ to a ‘nice to have’ to a certifiable strategic necessity, a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) program represents the new order in today’s organizations. And those that believe they can get away with paying lip service to authentic inclusivity are in for a rude awakening.
HRD’s 5-Star Diversity and Inclusion Employers 2022 awards survey recently looked at Canadian organizations that went above and beyond in their DEI offerings over the past 12 months. The HRD team’s extensive research revealed startling findings on employee and employer sentiment – and uncovered the key areas of concern that HR leaders need to address moving into 2023.
“Far too often, diversity is treated as one item on a list of countless boxes to check when assessing company culture and public image”
Rolddy Leyva, Splunk
The definition of authentic diversity
One of the biggest mistakes employers make when it comes to diversity is not following through. A report from Glassdoor found that 76% of employees would rather work for an authentically diverse company, with 80% of workers actively selecting an inclusive organization. It’s clear that candidates prefer DEI-focused businesses – and so many employers have hit upon diversity as a recruitment tactic. However, simply claiming to be inclusive to get talent through the door won’t help companies in the long run.
“A truly diverse workplace is made up of a collective, meaningful effort by both the organization and employees, including diversity of thought and ideas,” says Sada Carman, HR generalist at BlueCat, one of the award winners.
“You only get that when you are being intentional about having a diverse group of people at the organization. This, of course, impacts so many pieces of the employee lifecycle from recruitment, to onboarding, to development and retention. We must ensure that we are looking at all areas of the employee lifecycle and measurable, focused DEI goals around the lifecycle. These efforts promote empathy, compassion, and the principles of equity to support an environment that embraces diversity for our team and community,” Carman says.
“A truly diverse workplace is made up of a collective, meaningful effort by both the organization and employees, including diversity of thought and ideas”
Sada Carman, BlueCat
Challenges of DEI in remote and hybrid work
The pivot to remote work was tough on everyone, but when it came to being consistent in DEI policies, HR had a challenge on their hands. Rolling out successful diversity initiatives can be tricky in office-based work, and the stress of the pandemic has made the situation even more difficult.
As 50% of employees have called on their employers to increase their commitment to diversity, employers need to start improving their program as soon as possible.
“I’d argue that DEI has holistically been neglected,” says Alex Lovell, director, research and data science at OC Tanner. “Many organizations have focused exclusively on diversity, and typically from a risk mitigation standpoint. Furthermore, after significant events in several Western countries, there’s been an increase in performative DEI.”
Lovell notes, however, that “organizations have often put less effort into inclusion and equity than they have into diversity. Part of this is natural – organizational risk is typically more expensive in the short term due to diversity issues. It is time to rethink the way our organizations work.”
But it’s not only equity and inclusion that’s presented challenges. The shift to remote work placed a disproportionate amount of strain on female employees – especially those with children. Lockdowns and school closures meant that homeschooling became the norm, with many working parents having to balance their own professional lives with caring for their young ones.
“It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally created some challenges from a DEI front for women who often had to manage homeschooling children and/or taking care of family members while continuing to perform at work,” says Carman. “BlueCat was no different, which is why we created wellness days, made sure leaders connected with their employees to ask about their wellbeing, offering flexible hours where it was needed, and highlighted our senior leaders who vulnerably shared they were experiencing difficulties.”
“I’d argue that DEI has holistically been neglected. Many organizations have focused exclusively on diversity, and typically from a risk mitigation standpoint”
Alex Lovell, OC Tanner
What will DEI revolve around in 2023?
If we consider what drove meaningful change in DEI over the past 12 months, we’re reminded of societal changes and global movements. Events such as the murder of George Floyd, #MeToo, Greta Thunberg’s activism – change always begins outside of the workplace. It’s up to HR leaders to reflect those changes in their company culture and mission.
“Far too often, diversity is treated as one item on a list of countless boxes to check when assessing company culture and public image,” says Rolddy Leyva, chief diversity officer at technology giant Splunk. “In addition to leadership commitment and accountability, DEI success ultimately depends on innovative thinking, bold ideas, a commitment to embrace each and every employee voice as well as bringing everyone along the journey.”
Leyva adds: “The most impactful DEI leaders pull rich perspectives from every corner and it’s critical you have the ability to assess, listen and amplify voices within an organization. DEI cannot be exclusive to any one team or person – everyone has a role to play, an experience to share and an ear to give.”
For employers looking to make meaningful and lasting change to their DEI offerings in the months to come, remember: this is not a solo sport. Organizations must draw upon the skills and ideas of their people, listening to what they want and believe, to make the changes that will best suit their teams. Most importantly, they cannot rely on ‘one size fits all’ programs that bear no relevance. After all, the best ideas on how to commit to DEI in 2023 may already be swimming around in employees’ minds.
“We understand DEI is a journey, not a destination,” says Carman. “We’re committed to supporting on-going personal and professional development to provide a safe, diverse, and inclusive environment.”
And as Deni Letts, strategic account executive at BlueCat, says: “DEI is not a spectator sport and requires everyone to actively participate.”
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