Improving representation of diverse groups of employees in your organization isn’t enough. You must also catalyze the momentum essential for overcoming inevitable challenges. How to build that momentum? Foster a culture of inclusion.
In our earlier article on how executives can kick-start their companies’ diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journey, we noted that even DEI programs that have begun generating results will encounter obstacles, such as complacency or a loss of focus among executives. To address such hurdles, executives must build momentum into their DEI initiatives.
MOMENTUM (N): THE IMPETUS GAINED BY A MOVING OBJECT
Fostering a culture of inclusion can serve as a powerful agent for building positive momentum. By culture, we’re referring to the set of shared attitudes, assumptions, values, beliefs, practices, behaviors, and rituals that characterize an organization over time. And by inclusion, we mean the experience that people have when their worth and dignity are recognized, and when they feel involved, valued, and supported by an organizational culture that’s built on a foundation of trust and mutual respect.
Momentum helps everyone in the organization—executives, managers, employees—stay focused, committed and motivated when DEI initiatives encounter inevitable obstacles. As momentum carries the organization forward, executives can learn from their progress—identifying what’s working well, what isn’t and, more important, why. They can then use those findings to refine their DEI strategy so it delivers the desired outcomes—including increased representation at senior levels in the company, accelerated career progression of early- to mid-career talent, and a greater sense of belonging and being valued, from all employees.
CATALYZING MOMENTUM THROUGH INCLUSION
No organization can build a culture of inclusion unless members of the executive team serve as visible champions of inclusion. To do so, executives must “walk slowly among their employees.” That is, they must be visible, mindfully communicating about the organization’s values—with frequency. This demonstrates collective self-awareness that they are role models, and it lays the foundation for a strong sense of connection among employees who feel appreciated for their capabilities and contributions. Consequently, employees feel more comfortable sharing their ideas, bringing their authentic selves to work, and recommending their employer to friends or members of their personal networks as a top place to work.
All this infuses the company’s strategic talent management program with positive energy. Result: The organization excels at not only attracting top talent in a brutally competitive labor market but also keeping that talent on board.
FOUR WAYS TO STRENGTHEN INCLUSION IN YOUR ORGANIZATION
There is no one “right” approach to building a culture of inclusion, as each organization’s situation is different. But in our own work, we’ve identified several strategies that we see as particularly powerful for fostering the inclusion essential for catalyzing DEI momentum.
1. Craft a robust action plan
Define an action plan for connecting your organization’s DEI strategy to your strategic talent management plan. An effective plan includes actions your company will take to teach executive team members how to:
- identify real, perceived, and emerging DEI issues in the organization
- recognize and intervene when such issues arise
- take actions to shape a positive working environment that will endure
Connecting DEI to the company’s strategic talent management plan is essential for winning and keeping the talent the business needs to sharpen its competitive edge and fulfill its mission. Additionally, it’s vital for weaving DEI into other key aspects of the organization—including development of new products and services, customer or client engagement, and supplier partnerships.
A robust action plan also describes the infrastructure—new processes, roles and responsibilities, policies, and programs—that your organization will build to support inclusion at the individual, group/function, and organizational levels. The right infrastructure builds trust in the company’s DEI strategy, as the strategy begins generating viable solutions to challenges facing the organization.
2. Widen the top of your recruiting “funnel”
Consider expanding your recruiting funnel to include a wider range of talent sources. You’ll send the message that your company welcomes talent from diverse groups. For instance, connect with external partners and “feeder” programs that provide access to the diverse talent pools called for by the strategic talent management plan.
We encouraged one client firm to partner closely with specific diversity feeder programs to support its recruiting efforts. We also designed a cost-effective approach to operationalize diversity recruiting as an ongoing process—not something the company did only when job openings arose. Toward this end, we helped the company design a strategy for cultivating ongoing relationships with prospective candidates. By regularly staying in touch with these individuals, leaders could move swiftly when job openings arose—gauging promising candidates’ interest and “selling” the benefits of coming on board. The resulting strong advocacy reduced instances of bias in hiring managers and enabled the company to enhance representation of professionals from diverse groups at senior levels within the firm.
3. Address the entire employee lifecycle
Ensure that processes and systems related to phases in the employee lifecycle further support inclusion. Between recruiting and retaining top talent, there are multiple inflection points where executives can effectively meet the needs of their diverse workforce. The onboarding process for new employees is a case in point. We recommend setting up a program to train leaders throughout your organization to serve as mentors for new hires. The program’s elements should include content specific to new hires from diverse groups. Good mentors help their protégés to quickly understand how work gets done in the organization and to cultivate the networks needed to start excelling in their new job, fast.
Performance management is another example. As part of your organization’s annual performance review process, hold members of your leadership team accountable. Insist that they devote ample time to evaluate, discuss, and align on the progression of high-performing talent. This process will enable you to develop well-informed next-step recommendations for the “ready now” or “ready next” talent population and to craft effective succession plans for critical roles within the company.
4. Make smart use of feedback
Collect feedback on how your DEI journey is progressing—then use it to improve. Feedback, and the mechanisms for gathering it, can take numerous forms. These include online employee surveys, in-person focus groups, and “pulse checks” through social media platforms that indicate how consumers and employee talent perceive a company and its leaders, including DEI performance. Feedback can also consist of quantitative data a company collects by tracking important HR metrics such as employee turnover and promotion rates.
But remember: Feedback is useless unless you do something with it! Apply the feedback you gather, and let the company know you’re doing it. For example, by designing programs supporting effective onboarding and integration, and by celebrating a milestone or achievement related to your DEI journey, you’ll keep progress at the forefront of employees’ awareness. Actions like these are sure to fuel and sustain momentum.
Remember the energy company we introduced in Part One, which had sought to increase the number of women occupying senior ranks in the organization? When executives gathered and examined data on attrition and promotion patterns, they discovered that attrition rates for women, specifically at the mid and senior levels, had been outpacing promotion rates. Additionally, at senior levels, men were also being promoted 1.6 times faster than women. While the company was doing well on the diversity front—recruiting more women—exit-interview data showed that many of the women didn’t feel included in the organization.
To address the problem, the company took two actions:
- “Mentoring circles” to supercharge the onboarding process. Beyond orientation, the organization established “mentoring circles.” Each circle consisted of 6-8 new hires matched with a senior executive. Participation in the 10-month program was optional, with new cohorts starting each quarter. The circles met every 6 weeks for 75 minutes to discuss a designated DEI topic—such as managing group dynamics while working across differences, mitigating the impact of bias, enhancing one’s personal brand, and networking. The senior executive in each circle received training on the topics and led the discussions. By being intentional with onboarding during the outset of new hires’ tenure, the company lessened the impact of systemic hurdles that had plagued the firm, including insider/outsider mindsets and cultural stereotypes
In a survey conducted one year following launch of the program, 97% of participants said they “Strongly Agreed” or “Agreed” that the program provided knowledge and skills that were useful in their transition to the company. Meanwhile, 94% rated the program’s overall effectiveness as “Excellent” or “Good” and said they would recommend the program to new hires. All of the participating senior executives indicated the likelihood of their participation the following year as “High” and said they’d also recommend the program to new hires.
- Sponsorship program for high-potential talent. The organization connected promotion-eligible, high-performing women with influential executives to serve as their sponsors. The program enhanced participants’ exposure in the company, provided experiential opportunities for professional growth, and built their confidence. Equally important, it helped establish accountability among executives for supporting inclusion—an essential ingredient for building momentum.
These moves paid big dividends: The promotion-rate gap between men and women who occupied roles at the same levels and who had similar experience began to narrow.
Questions for Your Next Moment of Introspection:
- How robust is your plan for connecting your DEI strategy to your company’s strategic talent management plan? How might the plan be improved?
- How wide is the top of your company’s recruiting “funnel”? Could it be expanded to send a stronger message that your enterprise truly welcomes talent from diverse groups, and to bring in needed diverse talent? If so, how?
- What processes and systems does your company already have in place to strengthen inclusion in different phases throughout the employee lifecycle? Where might you make some improvements?
- Does your company currently gather and use feedback on its DEI performance? If so, what does the feedback consist of, and how is it used? How might the company get even more value from such feedback?
Watch for our forthcoming Part Three article, where we’ll offer suggestions for sustaining business results gained from your DEI efforts.
This article originally appeared in Chief Executive Magazine.