Five mistakes to avoid when creating and implementing a diversity strategy

December 19, 2023
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How can you create an effective diversity strategy? Melanie Hayes, Chief People Officer at Nash Squared, looks at what to avoid doing to get the best out of your D&I strategy. This article first appeared on emPOWERED Capacity.

Diversity and inclusion has rightly risen up the strategic agenda in recent years as employers recognise the benefits of harnessing the widest range of talent possible and enabling everyone to be themselves at work. The more diverse and inclusive a workplace is, the higher that productivity, engagement and motivation are likely to be.

This year’s Nash Squared Digital Leadership Report – based on research amongst over 2,100 technology leaders around the world – finds that over 71% of tech leaders believe taking an inclusive approach to diversity is improving the quality of their hires. Overall, our research has shown that diversity is gradually improving in the technology industry (if still too slowly) as leaders recognise the importance and benefits of taking an inclusive approach.

But building an effective D&I strategy – and implementing it – is not straightforward. It requires time, effort and commitment. It’s something that we have been working hard at ourselves at Nash Squared for several years. Like others, we’ve made mistakes along the way. We also recognise that there is much further to go, and more to do.

While we don’t pretend to have all the answers, I hope it might help others to share some of the learnings we’ve gathered along the way. Often – and valuably – advice is geared around what you should do. But it may also be useful to highlight some things to avoid – so that’s the approach I’ve taken here.

1. Make sure it’s not seen as an ‘HR initiative’

Let’s be honest – there can easily be fatigue within the business at ‘another’ initiative from HR. D&I is much more than an HR initiative – it’s a key strategic issue and deeply reflective of the values and culture of the organisation. It’s essential therefore that any D&I strategy has the ownership of the leadership team behind it, and is visibly seen to be supported and promoted from the very top.

At Nash Squared, when we launched our various employee network groups, we made sure each one had an executive sponsor – this helped give them the endorsement needed to build momentum quickly. It’s also worth noting that for our women’s network, we appointed a male executive sponsor – that may seem counter-intuitive, but it sent the message that diversity and inclusion is of relevance to everyone, men as much as women!

2. Don’t make assumptions

Your D&I strategy should be about and for your employees. It follows therefore that you’ve got to listen to what they want. Don’t assume you know what’s needed. Do you really understand the current demographics, issues and concerns of your workforce? Seek staff views, give your people a voice. Involve them in building the solutions and implementing change. It’s when you include people that engagement and enthusiasm rises. Consulting with your staff will also make the outcomes more authentic to your business.

3. Don’t try to shoehorn diversity into your existing culture and approaches

It’s key to appreciate that for most businesses creating and implementing a D&I strategy means that change is on the way. It can’t be about token changes, tacking on some diversity-related initiatives to what you’ve already got. It involves challenging yourselves and asking uncomfortable questions. This is a big part of the reason why you need leadership fully on board. For example, if you’re serious about increasing the levels of diversity in the business, your recruitment processes and practices may need to change.

You may need to build whole new initiatives too, like an apprenticeship scheme or link with a community college. For this, you’ll need to educate and motivate many stakeholders at different levels of the business.

4. Don’t forget that it’s your leaders and managers who will deliver it – equip them for the task

A strategy and a vision is all well and good, but it’s your line managers and team leaders who will need to ensure it’s enacted in the day-to-day. Leading and managing more diverse teams is likely to require new skills and levels of awareness. Make sure that there is sufficient training and support for your managers so they’re equipped to bring the strategy to life. Invest also in L&D and resources for all staff, such as diversity awareness training. An inclusion strategy needs to do just that – include everyone, whatever their role.

5. Overlook data at your peril

You’re going to be investing budget and work in the strategy – so you’ve got to be able to track, measure and report on progress. Data is therefore key. Think about what data you’re going to need and what applications or tools you need to derive it. Once you have the data, it’s also essential to be able to act on the findings and address any issues it’s revealing.

Gender pay gaps are a good case in point. It’s a statutory requirement for most businesses to measure their pay gaps. But you also need to articulate a credible action plan to address the gap over time. If you’re not thinking about data, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

There are many other ingredients for success of course, including areas such as mentoring programmes, flexible working policies that support the widest possible range of employee needs and circumstances, and a clear and compelling communication strategy.

Perhaps more than anything, it’s about finding the connection between diversity and inclusion and your underlying company culture, vision and purpose. If you can bring the two together in an authentic way – through the realisation that a diverse and equitable business enables everyone to be more themselves – then you’ll be well on the way to building a strategy that takes root and helps the business prosper.

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