ARE ORGANISATIONS LEARNING TO DIVERSIFY AND THRIVE ?
In 2020 , the Black Lives Matter protests shook the world , putting the focus squarely on racial bias and discrimination . Here , we speak to diversity and inclusion consultant Claudia Iton to find out where progress is being made .
How has the death of George Floyd in the US affected organisations ’ diversity and inclusion ( D & I ) focus , in your experience ?
That terrible situation — the passing of one man — created something of a perfect storm . He ’ s not the first person to have died in these sorts of circumstances , other deaths have been publicly recorded , but this case caught everyone ’ s imagination and evoked a conversation around race and ethnicity . Maybe because it was during COVID-19 and we were out of our regular rhythm , so it had time to seep into our consciousness .
In the past , when we ’ ve talked about D & I , for a number of organisations it has meant gender — and has been focused on how we can create a more conducive working environment for women and get them to the top table . But George Floyd ’ s passing shifted the conversation to our ethnic minority colleagues ; how they have been managing and how can we create a more level playing field for them .
Where are most organisations on their D & I journey , and is there any pattern by sector or industry ?
A lot of organisations are anxious about D & I , and are prepared to do something — but are not quite clear what that needs to be . It ranges from those who want to do the superficial things , to the people who are really up for making some sort of fundamental change , but are not sure how to go about it .
I haven ’ t seen a dominant pattern by sector or industry . I think it ’ s a lot to do with the culture and where people are coming from . A lot of third sector organisations take the view that , because they are charities , they have an ethos that translates through to their culture , but I think many will have a rude awakening .
Some of the larger organisations are probably guilty of doing the more cosmetic things — being seen to be busy and active , and yet barely embracing aspects such as addressing leadership behaviour , or putting resources behind looking at the data or trying to understand people ’ s lived experience .
How can organisations go about levelling the playing field ?
They can do three key things . First , it ’ s about having senior leaders aligned behind D & I . Without that , I would posit that no real change happens . It ’ s all well and good to have groundswell and bottomup initiatives , but without senior leadership ’ s demonstrable commitment to ethnic and racial diversity , you do not get lasting institutional change . That ’ s what I ’ d put on the table as step number one .
Millennials and Gen Z , in particular , are very committed to this agenda ; they are the talent pipeline of the future
Once that ’ s secured , work needs to be done around fact-finding ; what is the data telling us ? Do we understand representation ? How are we doing our recruitment ? Do we attract people of different races and backgrounds ? How many of those people do we appoint , proportionate to the population they come from ? And how do we retain them ? Do we develop these people , do we promote them and give them sponsorship ? Do we give them a platform to shine ?
Having done the fact-finding , the third step is to listen to people ’ s lived experience . It involves creating forums where people have the confidence and trust to speak openly about what they ’ ve experienced , and how they have been living within the organisation and beyond it . I think it ’ s important to be aware of , and recognise , the entire lived experience when looking to chart a new course .
And how could HR influence this process ?
HR directors can invest effort in getting senior leadership ’ s attention . The business case has become more compelling since the death of George Floyd . If we look at the response around the world , we saw protests in the midst of a pandemic , and people prepared to make their feelings really clear .
What was instructive about these crowds is that they were largely young , and also from a broad cross-representation of society . It wasn ’ t singularly black crowds ; it was people of every hue . It tells us that millennials and Generation Z , in particular , are very committed to this agenda ; they are the talent pipeline of the future , and if organisations fail to take account of what these generations see as basic , they are going to miss out to competitors that do .
This is business critical ; it ’ s our customers and our future talent who are signed up to this agenda . Organisations ignore that at their peril . We can see examples with major global brands that have got the message ; for example , Apple has launched a $ 100m Racial Equity and Justice Initiative , designed to challenge the systemic barriers to opportunity and dignity that exist for communities of colour .
I would argue that , without inclusion , there is no diversity ; or not for long , anyway
Should we be focusing more on inclusion than diversity ?
I would argue that without inclusion , there is no diversity ; or not for long , anyway . Inclusion is the magic . It ’ s the old adage : “ Diversity is being invited to the party ; inclusion is being asked to dance .”
It ’ s about the involvement and the emotional connection . I ’ m finding more and more that people are making the connection between inclusion and actual performance and delivery . When we explore the experiences of marginalised groups ( these days headlined by the black community , but there are others as well ), their exclusion reduces their ability to put in a strong performance .
Even if we were to ignore the ethical issue , the imperative for inclusion is driven by business concerns . There ’ s payback involved in being inclusive , it ’ s not just the right thing to do .
So , how can we help our organisations to become more inclusive , in practical terms ?
Again , it starts with leaders ’ willingness to see people as individuals , rather than as stereotypes . It ’ s that interpersonal connection . I look for the 3Cs of ‘ curiosity , courage and caring ’. This means coming at people with a curiosity , with the courage to learn from mistakes ( for example , saying the wrong thing ) and being caring — having empathy .
You then have to have an insight into organisational processes , change any that perpetrate biases for people from marginalised groups , and listen to their lived experiences . Psychological safety is a part of it , and comes from congruence between leaders being willing to see people as individuals ( not expecting people to conform to a particular type or profile before they become part of an ‘ in-group ’) and processes that don ’ t count against people who aren ’ t from the ‘ in-group ’.
It ’ s creating a culture that tells people “ we see you ; you ’ re welcome , please come with all your difference because we want it . It ’ s important , because we don ’ t want groupthink ; we want the creativity and innovation that comes from difference . Please come into our organisation — you ’ re welcome to contribute ”.
I think all leadership involves growing self-awareness and people becoming more able to be authentic in the moment
How can we address our own bias and the bias within our organisations ?
As HR director at Unilever , I helped leaders to understand how bias works , and what happens if we ignore it . It ’ s about being mindful of and attentive to bias , aware of whether or not it ’ s affecting our processes , and taking steps to mitigate that , particularly around things such as talent conversations .
I also coached leaders how to ‘ turn up as themselves ’ and do more of that engagement at a person-to-person level , rather than seeing people through some kind of filter , which only allows their ‘ type ’ to come through .
Investing in unconscious bias training on its own is risky business and I ’ m not a fan . I think it ’ s important for people to understand their biases so that they are aware of them . But we need to complement that with ways to mitigate bias when we are managing processes and transactions . Unconscious bias awareness needs to be joined by process mitigation .
What does that look like ? It ’ s about people being aware and honest enough to say , “ I might enter into these HR processes with a bias ”. For example , on an interviewing panel , telling colleagues : “ I have a negative reaction when I hear an Eastern European accent . I ’ m going to make an effort to think differently ; please support me in doing that ”. Research shows that vocalising our bias triggers , and enlisting the support of our colleagues in the moment , has much more of an effect than ‘ training ’ people in unconscious bias .
So , self-awareness is a vital aspect of achieving D & I ?
I think all leadership involves growing self-awareness and people becoming more able to be authentic in the moment . I think we ’ re guilty of assuming that when people become more senior in organisations ( often on the basis of their technical proficiency ) they also have an abundance of management and leadership skills . That has been proven wrong time and again .
Claudia Iton is director of Replete Consulting , an HR consultancy specialising in diversity and inclusion .