Five ways HR leaders can design an equity program that delivers value toÂ employees long after the term stops trending.
By Pearlie Oni
The business case for diversity and inclusion (D&I) hasÂ been well established. Diverse teams are more creative,Â more productive and, all in all, more lucrative. In fact,Â McKinseyâs 2019 Diversity Wins: How Inclusion MattersÂ report found that the most diverse companies areÂ more likely to outperform their less diverse peers onÂ profitabilityâand the greater the representation, theÂ greater the performance.
For years, HR leaders have sold D&I programs to the C-suiteÂ using dollars and cents, with the results being placid, slow-moving,Â ill-funded programs meant to boost diversityÂ numbers and nothing more. These types of programs haveÂ not moved the needle on inclusion, with McKinsey notingÂ that while overall sentiment on diversity is 52 percentÂ positive and 31 percent negative, sentiment on inclusion isÂ markedly worse, at only 29 percent positive and 61 percentÂ negative.
Diversity and inclusion issues in the workplace did notÂ manifest themselves on the day George Floyd was killedÂ by the police, nor did they spring fully formed from theÂ resulting protests, riots, and societal unrest. Diversity,Â inclusion, and equity have always been a human issue, notÂ a business issue. Here are five ways HR leaders can designÂ an equity program that delivers value to an organizationâsÂ employees long after the term stops trending.
1. Listen, donât talk. Diversity and inclusion is a broadÂ term, but make no mistakeâthe conversations that yieldÂ successful diversity, inclusion, and equity programs areÂ nuanced and unique to each organization. The first step isÂ starting these conversations: Speak to employees and askÂ them to identify the issues.
What keeps employees of color from feeling heard,Â validated, and accepted? What keeps the women in anÂ organization trapped beneath the glass ceiling? In whatÂ ways has the organization failed to create a culture thatÂ celebrates diversity?
Be prepared for these conversations to be uncomfortableÂ and sometimes messy, but they are necessary. At Redpeg,Â before launching the first employee resource group (ERG)Â geared toward women in the organization, there wereÂ focus groups with women from different departmentsÂ and levels within the organization to help identify painÂ points and brainstorm solutions the proposed ERG mightÂ offer. Afraid that people will not speak up? Survey staffÂ anonymously and use the data gathered to inform theÂ program strategy.
2. Design, donât just build. As the function responsibleÂ for creating equity programs, HR leaders should considerÂ themselves architects and developers. But before they canÂ lay a single brick, they will need to sit down at the drawingÂ table to design a plan that fits their organizationâsÂ particular needs, per the knowledge gained throughÂ conversations with the team.
Putting together an ERG is not going to work for aÂ company whose specific pain point is lack of mentorship,Â for example. Likewise, making an outside diversity hire isÂ only going to aggravate existing cultural issues if currentÂ employees have expressed that they have been overlookedÂ for promotion. At RedPeg, design-thinking tactics fromÂ the âExperience Designâ department were leveraged toÂ create a bespoke D&I program that includes an employeeÂ experience journey map.
HR leaders should put as much time in the strategy ofÂ the program as they do in the execution, taking intoÂ consideration the companyâs unique employee make-up,Â their desires, and their needs.
3. Measure, donât count. It is tempting to evaluate theÂ success of a D&I program against the number of minoritiesÂ and women working at an organization, and trackingÂ those numbers is certainly an important component.Â However, the goal for a diversity, inclusion, and equityÂ program should be to improve the work lives for theÂ minorities and women a company is already employingÂ and for the diverse employees it hopes to employ one day.Â Therefore, success should be measured in the happiness,Â engagement, and empowerment of employees, not inÂ how many of them there are. At RedPeg, the success ofÂ the D&I program is measured by how happy and engagedÂ employees are through anonymous, quarterly surveys.
4. Be about it, donât just talk about it. PerformativeÂ allyshipâbeing more concerned with the appearance ofÂ making a difference than the act of making a differenceâwill tank any equity program. Changing an organizationâsÂ logo during pride month or granting employees a day offÂ for Juneteenth while doing nothing to actually change theÂ internal culture that fosters inequity will do very little toÂ improve the day-to-day lives of employees, even if it earnsÂ brands a pat on the back from their customers and clients.Â If the leadership team plans to show support for minoritiesÂ by being vocal about social issues on their brandâs socialÂ media platforms, they should be prepared to keep thatÂ same energy while conducting internal meetings andÂ creating HR policies and organizational procedures.
5. Donât be scared, just do it. Having the conversationsÂ necessary to foster meaningful change will be awkwardÂ at first, especially if an organization, like most, is used toÂ sweeping discussions around inequity under the proverbialÂ rug. Asking employees to reveal their workplace anxieties,Â fears, and resentments as they relate to their race, gender,Â sexual orientation, and other identities will be difficult forÂ sure, but HR leaders should not allow fear of vulnerability,Â fear of making mistakes, of saying the wrong thing, or ofÂ not getting it right the first time keep them from trying.
It takes time and consistent effort to build a culture of trustÂ and transparency, and mistakes will be made. When thatÂ happens, apologize, adjust the approach, and move on.
Pearlie Oni is director of employee experience for RedPeg Marketing.