Six steps to enacting inclusivity: an agile framework for achieving a more diverse and equitable business
Two years have now passed since the murder of George Floyd and the emergence of a protest movement that highlighted the racial and social discrimination that impacts minorities in our society. The call to action underpinning this moment of reckoning was one of its most stark and lasting legacies, with many organisations – and people – pledging consequential changes to improve diversity and inclusion.
Businesses, which were rightly not exempt from this inflection point, have had mixed success in their attempts to transform and change. In many cases this is because the creation of an inclusive working culture that respects and empowers individuals from diverse backgrounds is not easy. Challenging and reforming embedded practices that have done very little for those from diverse backgrounds will inevitably take time. However, there are simple principles of incremental change that can help to bring about more diverse and equitable businesses.
Words, not action, from business leaders
Agility in Mind research shows that 99% of FTSE100 companies now have an inclusive mission statement in place, yet paints a very different story when it comes to the implementation of more proactive policies.
Nearly half (48%) of the FTSE100 have only one or fewer diversity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives that take positive steps – those that directly initiate a policy to improve the standings of, or amplify the voices of, diverse and underrepresented individuals. While some DEI areas fared better– notably over half of FTSE100 companies are taking steps to address gender equity – others fared particularly badly: just 4% offer a substantial neurodiversity initiative.
To further explore the disparity between what organisations pledge to do and what they are actually doing, Agility in Mind spoke to 250 UK business leaders. The results showed cognitive dissonance on how they rate their own performance when it comes to DEI. Just under half (44%) of those leading UK companies reported that they ‘could not do more’ or ‘have a range of policies starting to take effect’ when it comes to DEI. This is a significant departure from the poor performance seen in the FTSE100.
The disconnect between the performance of UK businesses and the attitudes of those at the top of UK companies suggests a knowledge gap – one that reflects perhaps a lack of understanding of the importance of these initiatives and lack of knowledge of how exactly to implement them. To summarise, it is to embrace words because they are easy, but to omit action because it is hard.
Embracing incremental change
Thinking about organisational change in a more incremental way can be a hugely beneficial tool for business leaders to start to challenge this disconnect. While acknowledging that there is a problem to be solved is not something change management can assist with, it can provide the steps to those willing to accept the need for greater diversity and inclusivity within organisations. Here are six steps and principles to help business decision makers get started:
- Remember your organisation is unique, so merely copying others will not necessarily achieve the organisation you want to be
Acknowledging that your company faces a comparably different challenge to any other is crucial, not least because the sort of proactive, positive initiatives that might be required differ across different organisations. For instance, the sorts of positive initiatives that are implemented in a company should reflect the specific shortcoming of the sector you are working in. The experience of workers in the hospitality industry might be very different from those working in large financial organisations in the City. Both may have the same causes rooted in prejudice but a company’s response should be indicative of the day-to-day experiences of your staff and those who interact with your company.
- Begin with inclusivity in mind, bringing a diverse set of views into a multidisciplinary team managing change
This step is key when starting the process of incremental change. Listening to those from diverse backgrounds who interact with your organisation will help you understand their experience and should highlight missteps that are currently being made. This doesn’t just mean permanent staff, but agency workers, customers or clients and those who help your company tick. Too often organisational decisions are made in closed-door boardrooms and ignore what can be learnt by engaging with those who are in the sphere of your business.
- Set out the characteristics of the organisation you want and share a clear vision for the future
Your approach to equity and inclusivity requires a vision. This is not just something to pay lipservice to in a mission statement but a real target for change and foresight of what the end goal should be. Diversity quotas or targets come under fire from some, but they do make tangible the process of change. Knowledge of how you want your company to look and act in relation to internal and external actors is what should replace the vague statements of intent that currently sit on the websites of most FTSE100 companies.
- Work incrementally, taking small steps that achieve real change, aligned always with the vision you have
Once this vision is defined, set out the steps which will help you get there. How can each department be involved in this process and how can each manager be responsible for ensuring this happens? Establishing a culture of incremental change involves widening the pool of those responsible for making it happen. Looking externally, companies should consider schemes that will empower individuals from diverse backgrounds. Acknowledge the benefit these voices will bring to your company and make the vision clear and well defined.
- Iterate, ensuring you learn at each step, and share the lessons across the organisation
Returning to the pool of diverse voices to understand improvements and tweaks to initiatives is key to incremental change. Acknowledge that sometimes things may go wrong and may not have the desired effect. So long as everyone within your organisation is aligned with the vision and feels responsible for bringing it about, these missteps will only work to make this process better.
- Make change visible to all so everyone knows the progress you’re making
Widening responsibility for DEI and organisational change works best when this transcends the highest managerial levels of an organisation. Maximum visibility, rather than change by stealth, will create a culture that rewards those who embrace the vision and characteristics you are trying to create.
Creating a truly diverse and inclusive organisation will be a challenge for many businesses. However, these companies must keep in mind the business case for diversity - with these changes comes greater innovation and collaboration. Not only this, but also a happier workforce. Our research showed that those companies with more schemes to tackle inequities had far higher Glassdoor scores, a telling measure of employee satisfaction. The bottom line is that widening the pool of ideas from which a business takes to innovate will only help it to grow more sustainably and in a more inclusive manner.
Andrew Jones, pictured below, is CEO of FT-ranked business agility consultancy Agility in Mind