Australia first began writing and enacting anti-discrimination laws in the 1970s. Since that time, there has been considerable progress made toward anti-discrimination, and a new word – ‘diversity’ – has emerged as the measure against which modern organisations rate themselves. But according to Kim Boyd, national sales and marketing manager at Frontier Software, leading organisations have now realised that recruiting for diversity isn’t enough. The success of any program lies in how an organisation uses its diverse employees once it has recruited them. Organisations that fail to focus on inclusion might as well stop recruiting for diversity because they can’t derive the benefits without putting in the effort, Boyd says.

“Frequently, the phrase ‘diversity and inclusion’ is used as a singular noun, but they are actually very different things,” she says. “Diversity refers to the range of variables that make humans different – ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, political affiliations and religion. 

But inclusion, Boyd explains, refers to the effort made and practices undertaken by an organisation to accept, value and welcome the diversity of its people and their collective experiences.

“Put simply, diversity is about difference, and inclusion is about embracing differences,” Boyd says. “Many employers actively recruit for diversity, but they’re failing to create inclusive environments.”

In recent years, diversity has become a hot topic in the workplace for a variety of reasons. The first, Boyd explains, is that it’s simply the right thing to do. Businesses should be reflective of the communities they serve, and Australia is becoming an increasingly diverse nation. The second is that diversity has a variety of tangible business benefits. As a basic example, increased diversity creates increased capability depth – employees bring their different talents, skills and abilities to expand the scope and strengths of their team. Team members with specific language skills or cultural understandings can open new markets, and organisations that embrace D&I attract a more diverse applicant pool and tend to have higher levels of staff engagement and retention.

“Employee resource groups within banking organisations helped create services designed explicitly for indigenous Australians and Sharia-compliant loans for Muslim clients,” Boyd points out.

Additionally, diverse experiences and backgrounds can generate innovative solutions to organisational challenges.

“Design thinking is an example of diversity at work,” Boyd says. “Decisions made by diverse teams are known to produce better results because you have more voices contributing from different viewpoints.”

Preparing for better D&I

With that said, it’s not an overnight task, and it involves considerable work. Forbes research has identified a number of factors that can contribute to the failure of D&I programs:

Viewing diversity as an HR task only.

Many diversity discussions focus solely on recruitment as the means by which diversity is achieved. That places diversity squarely within the ambit of HR, not at the core of the enterprise itself. Initiatives such as employee resource groups (the same groups that developed innovative banking products in Australia) are perceived as a cost instead of profit centres.

“Until the programs form part of the core business, they will not be as successful,” Boyd says.

Not understanding what D&I seeks to achieve.

If the reason for developing D&I programs is to create an attractive brand image, then the initiative has no focus. If the reason for developing such programs is to identify new markets for the business, then it has a clear objective. For example, Boyd points to the inclusion of employees on the autism spectrum to improve software testing.

Not taking advantage of the resource D&I presents.

Having a diverse mix of people is one thing – however, organisations need to know how to take the individual skills and combine them into a synergistic and effective unit.

“D&I is akin to the difference between individual pieces of the talent puzzle and a fully integrated, complementary solution,” Boyd says.

Not training leaders in how to embed D&I culture.

If leaders aren’t able or prepared to change the way their teams operate, diversity initiatives might be a one-off success. True D&I, Boyd explains, comes from a leadership group that consistently harnesses the potential of diverse populations and applies it to business objectives. Without granular cultural change, D&I cannot embed across organisations.

“As leaders, the task is to facilitate the culture, not necessarily lead the process,” Boyd says.

Even with all of these considerations in mind, the challenges are far from insurmountable. Boyd refers to Ingram Micro, an employer in the IT space with more than 33,000 employees in 64 countries, which has developed 10 steps to creating a diverse workforce.

  1. Drive from the top. Leadership must champion diversity’s importance to ensure the desired outcome – not always as drivers, but as committed advocates.
  2. Examine your cultural relevance. Review your partners to determine whether your team mirrors the diversity of your value chain. Develop strategies to become more culturally and socially relevant in the marketplace.
  3. Audit your business. Determine whether your culture supports diversity and actively includes all team members. Create formal and informal ways to attract, engage and retain your talent.
  4. Consider your communities. Analyse the sources of your talent to determine which events, social media and professional activities attract diverse new hires.
  5. Develop a blueprint. Create and promote a formal diversity program. Devise ways to measure, evaluate and redirect efforts. Embed diversity champions throughout the business, not just in HR.
  6. Provide mentorships. Match emerging talent with established employees to assist them in career development, coaching and networking.
  7. Establish employee resource groups. Employee resource groups (also known as affinity groups or business network groups) enable employees with shared characteristics or life experiences to meet as a group. Giving groups objectives aligned with business strategy often results in increased employee engagement, deeper market penetration and identification of future leaders.
  8. Measure progress. To ensure D&I initiatives align with broader goals, identify metrics that will measure their success. This is more art than science, but analysis of turnover, performance ratings, exit interviews and pulse surveys will provide basic data on employee experience as it relates to diversity measures.
  9. Celebrate accomplishments. From changes in your workforce demographics to community activities and innovative products or solutions, honouring achievements helps to stimulate further activity and initiatives.
  10. Evolve continuously. D&I isn’t a single task to be completed. It’s more like a personal relationship that requires attention, nurturing and commitment. Constant evaluation and review is required.

“There is no single approach to creating successful D&I programs within an organisation,” Boyd says. “Every company is different, with different workforce structures and business objectives. However, the focus must be on ensuring your diverse workforce is openly valued, developed and directed toward the achievement of company objectives.”

By fostering inclusion and measuring the impact of initiatives on employee perceptions, the benefits inherent in the development of a diverse workforce will be realised, and the pool of available talent will be virtually knocking on your door.

Originally published in HRD Magazine in November 2019