Why has the topic of Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) become such a strategic topic in recent years? Inclusion & Diversity is a business imperative today. It is a representation of an organization’s culture where people from different demographics come together to deliver on the organization’s vision and mission. Despite its growing significance and organizational investment in building a culture of Inclusion, employees still feel that their employers, especially their Leaders do not do enough and that it is more of a tick box exercise and meeting compliance or legislative requirements. For example, in South Africa, we have to meet certain Legislative requirements on Employment Equity, People of Colour, Females and People living with Disabilities that is aligned to our Transformational agenda. Most organisations meet the minimum requirements of Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) targets, but the culture is far from it.
As HR professionals, we encounter a variety of people, each with their own needs and requirements. What is key is how we engage and make sure each employee feels valued through our various and well-tailored engagements; with the hope that they leave with feelings of equality and empowerment, allowing employees to be their authentic selves. Our complex job is the joint task of creating that environment within which employee engagement is driven by Inclusive practices. It is the role of us, the HR Team, to drive this agenda as custodians of all elements of these practices – sourcing, recruitment, policies, performance management, rewards and employee engagement.
What seems to be a requirement is our technical knowledge to guide, however, what is most needed is what colleague experience we impart. With a combination of various cultures, one must learn how to engage individuals, acknowledging that everything is not always about the bigger group dynamic. Instead, we should focus our attention on the distinct needs of the various countries. It is not because of a lack of awareness in the HR community regarding what role they play in driving this strategy, but rather the depth and intricacy of the subject itself.
The focus is on how Diversity & Inclusion impacts us as HR Professionals and how important Inclusion is for our business. But most important is how we "live" it, as professionals, and be strategic partners of business.
Recently we conducted a range of Small Group Listening Sessions to determine how colleagues really feel and how different the results are from our All-Colleague Survey. We noted how some colleagues were brave and shared openly in big forums about what they see as unequal, while others shared their opinions on the Survey, and most remained neutral. I wonder if that may be out of fear, lack of trust or the idea that honesty will hamper their career advancements.
“What is key is how we engage and make sure each employee feels valued through our various and well-tailored engagements; with the hope that they leave with feelings of equality and empowerment, allowing employees to be their authentic selves.”
Our role is to ensure we take objective views and ask colleagues to help build towards the solution, so they believe and truly adopt what is put in place. If it does not work, we all take accountability for it and there is no need to point fingers but continue to look at alternative solutions. What is also important is how we look at what is sustainable projects, that will shape our culture for more Inclusion. This should be less of a tick box exercise, but truly a vehicle that will move the organization forward.
In engaging our Leaders, we should consult, coach, but also be firm that we are the experts and know better. Sometimes what is asked is not needed, how do we find ways to say NO, but in the same way guide and support business.
We all must believe in the idea of Inclusion and make daily efforts to change the equity status, female recruitment and promotion a reality. I&D however is cultural, all-pervasive, and can impact even the smallest experience positively or negatively. The best statistics on diversity are not enough for positive business impact and employee advocacy if they are not accompanied by a culture of Inclusion. The CEO cannot be the lonely voice on I&D and it is not an HR alone initiative, it is an everyone “IN”itiative. HR needs to help drive the strategy into action, by looking at the What, How and Who?
Can we identify I&D Champions from those voices that are never heard? Can we create safe spaces for the voiceless to voice their views without fear of intimidation?