HR Headaches Series: When Older Leaders Don’t Understand Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

In this week’s HR Headaches post, we discuss how to convince senior management to invest in, and value, DEI.

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Not gaining traction with your DEI policy? Here are ways to gain senior leadership support

The case for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace has never been stronger. Businesses are learning the value of DEI both internally and in the marketplace. Fairness to all and representative staff build a strong organization internally. Externally, the consuming public seeks out companies that reflect their values and beliefs. If your organization has been avoiding DEI, it may be time to start implementing initiatives.

The numbers don’t lie 

An inclusive organization is more likely to succeed, according to a wealth of research. Analyzing your customers is a first step to DEI. Harvard Business Review found that for organizations wanting to understand their client base better, having at least one member of the team who shares customer ethnicity raises understanding levels by 152%.

Research by Deloitte revealed when it comes to innovation, diverse companies have an increase of 20% over their homogenous counterparts. Overall, McKinsey found companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity were more than one-third more likely to show better financial returns: 15% higher for those in the top quartile for gender diversity.

According to a ZipRecruiter study, an overwhelming majority (86%) of job seekers rank diversity as a factor in their decision to accept an offer of work.

Although the case for business shows DEI initiatives are a strategic business tactic, they produce results for recruiting and retaining talent. According to a ZipRecruiter study, an overwhelming majority (86%) of job seekers rank diversity as a factor in their decision to accept an offer of work. For retaining staff, millennials particularly tend to stay almost twice as long as their average 2.8 year tenure if their employer fosters an environment of diversity, equity and inclusion.

From every angle, DEI is good for business. For many HR and management professionals, the challenge isn’t understanding its value, it’s translating that value to the higher-ups so they can initiate change.

Talking to the suits

For many organizations, the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality is difficult to break down. For successful companies, the mindset may be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But today’s market demands more than the status quo. Affecting growth starts with a legitimate business case for change. Outlining the need to adapt internally and in the marketplace is the best way to validate why DEI is important, impactful, and possibly overdue. Be ready to provide data, answer questions and offer solutions.

Start with the market

If your organization doesn’t have employees that represent your customer base, how will you market to them?

It’s no secret consumers have more buying options than ever: retaining existing customers and expanding your reach is key. The challenge for businesses looking to reach new consumers is understanding how they perceive and will use your product. If your organization doesn’t have employees that represent your customer base, how will you market to them?

No matter how valuable your product, the inner workings of your organization are no longer anonymous. Media, current or disgruntled employees, or web critics have the power to make or break your brand. An organization that promotes DEI may be less likely to fall victim. Even the largest, most successful companies can be negatively impacted; planning for and executing DEI programs is key to staying ahead of the curve.

Compile data

The statistics cited here are only a fraction of the data available on the benefits of DEI initiatives. Some research has been more publicly disseminated and recognized, but there’s a wealth of data that shows positive outcomes for companies that take on DEI. You may find research specific to your industry: some data shows diversity in STEM fields leads to higher levels of innovation.

In the tech industry, 80% of survey respondents believed diversity in their organization is important, even though data suggests tech giants struggle to meet their own DEI goals.

In retail, diversity in the workforce is on display for customers to see. One study found 42% of minority groups and 41% of LGBTQ customers would switch their shopping to a retailer that was committed to DEI efforts. Making consumers feel welcome requires they feel represented.

The challenge for many organizations, large and small, is to look outside the usual recruitment sources to cast a wider, more diverse applicant pool. If your company doesn’t message inclusion, you can be confident your competitor does. Be armed to make your case to management with numbers that show benefits outweigh any costs or challenges.

Watch for internal dissatisfaction

Are you losing employees or candidates because of lack of diversity? Exit interviews may reveal top performers are moving on to greener pastures because they want to work for an organization more committed to inclusion and equity. Even without churn, you may be experiencing employee dissatisfaction that could lead to reduced engagement and productivity. Internal surveys (and applicant surveys) can help uncover how employees really feel about your DEI commitment and results. A quick, anonymous poll can be an eye-opener for many organizations.

Build a compelling case

When the time comes to present arguments and solutions to the top brass, be ready with data to support your initiatives. Bring in research and statistics and polling data, and be ready to discuss how recruitment efforts could be enhanced with a larger applicant pool. You’ll want to cover all these bases to set the stage for DEI programs you want to develop.

People fear change, so be ready to overcome objections. Particularly in a business that is working well, the prospect of varying from the status quo could be uncomfortable. For some in senior management positions, change equals risk. You’ll want to be armed with the response that not adapting has its own risk. Stagnation doesn’t create growth or expand market share. It may even have a negative impact. Try to anticipate the objections you’ll get from more seasoned managers, and be ready to respond.

For some in senior management positions, change equals risk. You’ll want to be armed with the response that not adapting has its own risk.

Some arguments may be legitimate: if your company manufactures mustache wax, you might not have a lot of women in R&D. Personal knowledge of the use and application of your product may be a necessary job qualification here, so gender inclusion might be challenging. That doesn’t mean other areas of the company can’t adapt and grow. Marketing professionals aren’t restricted to promote only products they personally use. They may not be sporting a handlebar, but the organization can be open to gender diversity.

You may have had similar discussions with senior-level staff members or owners in the past. What objections did they offer, if any? Taking the time to review these, and going in armed with a great response can help build your case for DEI.

Dos and don’ts

Don’t just talk about problems; present solutions. Outline ways you can increase diversity in hiring with targeted goals. Show how internal promotions and/or transfers can reduce clustering (where large groups of a gender or ethnicity all work in one area, rather than dispersed throughout the company). With a clear path outlined, senior-level management can easily see how the programs will roll out, and how seamless change can be.

Work with who you have and who you hire: career planning and training can help underrepresented populations move more quickly to advanced positions. This solution not only builds engagement within the rank and file (everyone wants to work somewhere promotions are available), but it may offer a transitional comfort level for senior management. Developing current talent, already valued parts of the team, may minimize fear of change for more senior staff members.

Don’t promise or expect change overnight. Once you’ve convinced senior managers or owners the value of DEI, it will take time to implement. Don’t set unrealistic expectations or let failure to meet them discourage future efforts. Moving your company to 50% representation in one area by XXX date may work well if you’re hiring 100% of the workforce. If you have existing staffers, you’ll need to wait for attrition to make replacements and that can take time.

Hiring a diverse workforce doesn’t naturally lead to equity and inclusion. You’ll need to make efforts to assure these equity and inclusion are top priorities in your firm.

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