From initiatives to change - 5 steps towards integrated D&I
Within the last few years, bias training and recruitment practices, such as anonymous recruiting, have gained popularity in Finland’s Diversity and Inclusion scene. While they are an excellent first step towards a more inclusive organisational culture, they alone are not enough to create sustainable practices and real change in the organisation.
Disjointed practices and sole initiatives are the two biggest stumbling blocks when aiming to create a more inclusive and diverse organisation.
The problems that D&I aims to solve are systemic in nature, and therefore require systemic solutions; a vision, a strategy and an organisation-wide commitment. There shouldn’t be an “inclusive enough” point, but a constant development and evaluation of the functionality of the current practices. Inclusion is not a one-time project, but requires a long-term approach. It means that while training and anonymous recruitment are a great start, they are only that.
Inclusion is not a one-time project, but requires a long-term approach. It means that while training and anonymous recruitment are a great start, they are only that.
Single initiative can not change years of accustomed behaviour, decisions and strategies. It needs to be clear for everyone in the organisation that there is a need for change, the reasons why there is a need for change and what steps are going to be taken towards accomplishing it.
I have listed below 5 points to take you from initiatives to integrated D&I and a step closer towards the rewards an inclusive organisation reaps.
1. Establish a vision for your company’s specific D&I strategy - it is as unique as you are.
While many general steps are applicable to most situations, nobody has the same people working for them, or the same business strategy. Focus on what it is that motivates your organisation for change. This may be a moral aspect, or an aim to increase innovation -- or maybe both.
Design a plan that fits your needs and meets your short and long-term goals for D&I. Having a unified vision for the organisation helps people to understand their part in creating change. Start by listing some bullet points for goals and inspiration; they shouldn’t have too much information, and there shouldn’t be too many of them -- less than 10 will be fine. This narrative will function as the foundation for key takes, messages, and raise awareness of the company’s plans and commitment even before a proper strategy has been established.
2. Showcase the vision in all your actions
This means external and internal communication and relations, as well as your business and talent strategies. As mentioned, disjointed activities often die off without having any larger impact. Externally, this can mean the relations to your suppliers and sponsors - how does their D&I strategy look like, and do their values reflect yours. Internally it can be as small as how we talk to (and about) each other or something like horizontal and vertical career possibilities. It also means each decision made that affects people is supposed to be communicated through your D&I manager, board or consultant to ensure that you follow the values and guidelines.
While it can sound extreme, having D&I considered in all of these decisions is the cornerstone to an integrated and effective D&I practice. This might include your social media posts, the design of your new office spaces, the weekly casual “after work” activities or quarterly evaluation surveys.
3. Appoint a person or a team responsible for D&I - and inform everyone in the company.
This not only gives practical advantages, but people also know who to turn to. Often the issue revolves around the person in charge already doing their role-specific tasks full time, leading to D&I being overlooked or pushed aside. Hiring someone either inside or outside the company can be a solution to make bigger investments and changes possible. It also means that you have a person that can connect the dots that D&I needs, which are more than HR practices or public relations alone.
4. Leading by example
When seen as a responsibility of the few and a rare occurrence for the rest, D&I strategy fails to be integrated into the entire organisation. Senior management needs to be committed, active and courageous - it is critical for a successful D&I strategy that the change comes from the top. It takes courage to stand up against systemic practices that have been normalised for years or decades.
A leader in an inclusive organisation needs to lead by example: define what is acceptable behaviour, create opportunities for safe dialogue, be comfortable with new and diverse situations and have humility to constantly be learning about themselves and about others. Inclusive leadership is more about facilitating and less about the traditional leader/follower model. In practice, it is about making sure everyone’s voice gets heard in daily meetings as well as in bigger organisational changes. A good inclusive leader should know how to shift the focus from the player on the field to the observer in the tower, as this can give insights into the practice itself and a good understanding of the bigger picture.
5. Encourage open and honest communication
When issues of diversity and inclusion are brought up, it often generates a lot of discussion, both negative and positive. Bias training is a great example: unconscious feelings and thoughts might have become available, showing past experiences in a different light. Having a facilitated follow-up, as well as a platform for anonymous feedback ensures that their feelings are heard, and supports the development of an inclusive culture .
A third party can be introduced to ensure that the issues are impartially dealt with, and there are programs and systems created entirely for addressing these issues (such as ombuds programs). A good place to start is to make sure the organisation’s policies, practices and resources are easily accessible - people often want to get familiar with the information before they bring any issues up. Start with creating a database of all the resources and information - and make sure everyone knows about it!
Creating a case for such an all-encompassing project can seem overwhelming. D&I as a profession is a jack-of-all-trades - to be integrated into everything the company does means that one needs to have basic knowledge in basically any topics ranging from HR to business strategies and legal frameworks. It is good to remember that D&I as a field emphasizes constant learning over being an expert in specific topics. Having consultants to support you and guide you throughout the process carries the core ideal of organisational D&I - that together we can accomplish more than we could alone.
Keep in mind that the most important factor in taking D&I initiatives and motivation towards sustainable practice and real change, is integrating D&I in the entirety of the organisation.
Nelli Halkosaari is the founder of MANGOBUSINESS, a new company in the field of diversity, inclusion and equity. Risen from the lack of D&I jobs in Finland, MANGOBUSINESS is founded to warm the organisational climate for D&I.
With a background in social science and a passion for people (and video games), Nelli is set to help organisations to become more diverse and inclusive, thereby creating products that are more diverse and inclusive.