A recent McKinsey study “reaffirms the strong business case for both gender diversity and ethnic and cultural diversity in corporate leadership […] The most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.”
The same report also highlights that progress in the DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) area is still very slow. So even if organizations are aware of the advantages of being genuinely diverse and inclusive, they still falter in their efforts.
Apart from being on everybody’s lips and somehow included in most corporate value statements, DEI is highly significant for several reasons. For companies, having strong DEI programs leads to greater customer service, stronger employee engagement, lower turnover rates, and increased innovation.
These benefits are highly valuable, so organizations need to start moving DEI from something that they plan on achieving at some point to something that they’re already actively working towards achieving.
Reaching diversity, equity and inclusion doesn’t happen simply by putting them on a goal list. It takes highly coordinated, intentional efforts. Diversity should begin at senior levels and DEI should become integrated into the business strategy. Furthermore, Talent Development (TD) programs need to make it a priority.
DEI can’t happen overnight. It’s a lengthy process, with potential setbacks and a few hurdles along the way. Leadership development is important for two main reasons. First, DEI needs to start at executive levels, so you’ll need to make sure that all employees have equal chances of embarking on a leadership development journey to set the right tone. Second, it’s essential that efforts are continued even if there is a succession in the organization’s leadership.
Whoever takes over has to be familiar with what’s already been done and completely on board with moving things forward. An all-encompassing approach should be employed to help employees at various stages of their career path through coaching, counseling, and talent mobility opportunities.
Read more: Why leadership development matters
The power of coaching
Often, managers want to be inclusive and have diverse teams but are apprehensive about language barriers, communication gaps, and even cultural differences. These are legitimate concerns. Although some of them can be covered by diversity training, one-on-one coaching is the better option as it gives people the opportunity to ask questions about particular situations that make them uncomfortable.
Furthermore, coaching is beneficial for employees who have historically been part of a discriminated category. Managers and team leaders should be given the proper tools to provide coaching to their diverse teams.
Having a strategic handle on how knowledge is managed within the organization plays a paramount role in achieving DEI. This is a lot more than developing and deploying diversity training – even though this type of intervention is helpful, it only scratches the surface. It’s important to be aware that there’s a formal version and an informal one.
The latter is often just as important and in this case, it’s even more relevant. People learn about others by meeting and interacting with them. Cultural understanding happens through immersion and when that’s not possible, knowing individuals who belong to the culture is the second-best thing.
Watching a documentary is informative but rarely has the emotional power to develop new attitudes and drive behavioral change. DEI programs need to bring diverse people together as much as possible and continue the equity and inclusion journey from there.
There’s a good reason why many companies make such little progress on the road to DEI – it’s hard, often uncomfortable, and can present many obstacles. However, these are not reasons to give up but to up the game by purposefully moving forward to become better organizations.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.