How to start your Diversity & Inclusion journey
Understanding the difference between diversity and inclusion is the first step to setting a formal strategy. Diversity is the characteristics that we all have and identify by. Inclusion is a feeling or culture that is created by the people within it.
So, having people with different diversity characteristics will not create an inclusive environment on its own. An inclusive culture forms when people, opinions, ideas and work are given the space and credence to flourish. That means inclusion needs to be embedded into organisational structures, and have accountability.
To achieve this, organisations need a clear idea of what they want to achieve and an agreed strategy on how to get there. There are three core actions organisations can focus on. These actions are not quick fixes – they may take years to achieve - but they will set you on the right path.
Get your executive teams on board
Executive support of strategy should be a primary focus – it’s crucial to everything else. If executives are visible, vocal and transparent about their intent to create a diverse and inclusive organisation, it will empower others to be similarly supportive.
Use data to inform your strategy
Knowing the diversity of your colleagues will allow you to implement programmes, policies and interventions to encourage a culture where inclusivity can flourish.
Data comes in many forms, and not having people data straight away should not hold you back from making decisions on your strategy early on in the process.
You can access and understand challenges colleagues may be facing through published governmental research such as:
- the McGregor-Smith Review (2017)¹ into race in the workplace
- the Parker Review (2020)² into ethnic diversity of UK boards
- the Hampton Alexander Review (2016)³ into increasing the number of women in senior positions in FTSE 350 companies.
You may already have the capacity to collect colleague diversity data through your HR system.
If this is the case, you will likely have a high percentage of gender and age data from your payroll requirements. If this isn’t an option, and you do a regular engagement survey, you could incorporate diversity characteristic questions into it.
It’s important to remember that diversity data is a snapshot of a moment in time in your organisation and can be a rich source of sentiment among colleagues. The main function of this data should be to understand if your organisation is a welcoming place for all people to work.
Collecting data in this manner will, ultimately, allow you to make informed decisions aligned to your Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) strategy in relation to the employee lifecycle of recruitment, retention and promotion. For example, at Aviva, we launched a bespoke ethnically diverse leadership programme in the UK in January 2020. 18 employees completed the first programme. In addition, line managers also underwent training and received guidance on how to help employees continue to develop their leadership skills.
Build communities for today and tomorrow
As well as listening to colleagues, giving them a voice can be instrumental to understanding the barriers in your organisation.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are self-formed, colleague-run groups aligned to one or more diversity characteristics. In Aviva, we have created six ‘communities’ (what we call our ERGs) structured Organisations which encourage an inclusive culture can really benefit from the environment this can create for its people – helping to support fresh thinking and new ideas. While there might not be a quick route to creating a formal Diversity & Inclusion strategy, there are three core actions – which are explored in this article - that organisations can focus on when taking their first steps. around, and beyond, the protected characteristics as set out by the UK Equality Act (2010).
Our communities are:
- Availability – supporting those with visible and non-visible disabilities in the workplace
- Balance – gender network to support gender parity
- Carers – to support parents and those caring for friends or family
- Generations – age network to support up to five generations in Aviva
- Origins – race, ethnicity, religion, belief and social mobility; celebrating our cultural differences
- Pride – sexual orientation and gender identity, supporting our colleagues who identify as LGBT.
ERGs are the social conscience of an organisation – involved because of their passion and incredible lived experience – which gives invaluable insight into what it means to be in a minority within the company.
While the ERGs should have view and be aware of your organisational D&I strategy, they must be given the space to create their own ways of working. They shouldn’t be held accountable for organisational change, but can be powerful advocates.
For example, our Balance community supports our People Function on sentiment with issues such as our Gender Pay Gap, as well as holding the function to account on our actions to close it.
For this reason, ERGs are also a great way to engage your executive leadership in being visible allies and advocates for the ERG and inclusion in general.
ERGs are often run by colleagues alongside their roles. If possible, it is best practice to set a benchmark for allowing time away from their day job to focus on the running of the networks. At Aviva, we offer a three-day FTE per month for our community leaders to run the networks.
Our communities receive central support and guidance from our People Function to make sure collaboration and learning takes place across the different groups too. Often, they have the same barriers that can be overcome in the same ways.
ERGs also play an important part in the lifecycle of recruitment, retention and promotion. Running an ERG successfully is a wonderful way to develop your future leaders.
Within Aviva, we have the opportunity to weave leadership development into our formal Learning & Development programmes. Our partnerships with external firms such as Stonewall and Business in the community also afford us the opportunity to put our ERG leaders forward for external leadership training.
But this is not an exhaustive list. Once you’ve set the right core actions for your organisation, developing D&I allows you to investigate other actions such as policies, investing in L&D for minorities and external partnerships. These will help you on your D&I journey.
This article was featured in Pensions Aspects magazine June 2021 edition.
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