Time to take action: Prioritising DE&I in 2021

By Peakon’s Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Sheree Atcheson

boardroom of diverse people, diversity, black inclusion, successful leaderThe globalisation of the Black Lives Matter movement was a defining feature of 2020. From the midst of a tragedy came a global call for action on the issues of racism and police brutality.

As a result, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is now front of mind for business leaders, as many seek guidance in developing and implementing effective DE&I strategies. This is reflected by the substantial spike in DE&I focused roles posted on LinkedIn in May and early June last year.

As this momentum continues, the opportunity is there for DE&I professionals to drive real change within their organisations. The first step in achieving this change? Creating an effective strategy. While any approach needs to be tailored to the unique needs of an organisation – I’d advise any DE&I leader to strongly consider three themes: Engagement, Education and Action.

Engage employees

Firstly, leaders need to rally their entire organisation to engage in DE&I efforts. Ensure business goals and DE&I goals are linked. Company-wide channels, including all hands meetings, Slack and Teams groups, can be hugely helpful in reaching everyone.

But leaders also need to consider how they reach people in smaller groups or individually. Formalised DE&I focus groups can be useful as they bring together employees from a range of backgrounds, and enable leaders to stress-test potential DE&I initiatives from diverse perspectives. Even smaller Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) can help ensure each employee is heard. These provide a safe space for underrepresented groups to voice any concerns and highlight their priorities.

However, it’s also important to give all employees access to a platform like ours that allows them to leave regular and confidential feedback and insights. This means every employee can safely put forward their view – even if they feel uncomfortable sharing it publicly. Psychological safety is key here.

The goal is for every employee to find their culture and values reflected in the ethos of the organisation. Something as simple as creating a company-wide calendar to highlight events and festivals across cultures, ethnicities and identities can help here. Bringing together employees to celebrate or support a particular event is a great way to engage them in DE&I objectives more generally – and create a collective sense of ownership.

Educate everyone

Education is key to any successful DE&I strategy – and this needs to happen across all levels of an organisation, including senior leadership. Biases are often unconscious, so people need education on identifying them in the first place. This means shining a light on societal inequities that may have permeated our thought-processes and decision-making.

This is where collecting company-wide, anonymous data is essential so that you can truly understand the health of DE&I in your organisation. Once you’re clear on that, education on topics such as privilege awareness, anti-racism and allyship is a good next step. Sessions should be mandatory for all and complemented with online learning paths.

Working with your hiring teams and interviewers on these topics is important too, as these people are the gatekeepers for all new talent entering the organisation. Recruitment must be well-rounded and free from bias – otherwise how will organisations achieve and retain diverse workforces? DE&I education should also be central to all onboarding programmes so that employees recognise its importance right from the outset. Analysis should be done on your hiring process to understand if/where people from underrepresented groups are falling out of the pipeline, and intervening as needed.

It can be useful to create and distribute an internal handbook to provide a permanent record of all DE&I reports, toolkits and policies. This needs to be made available to the entire company so that everyone can digest and reference it at their own pace.

Take Action

Employers can only create truly diverse and inclusive environments by analysing and challenging their own processes. Designing a strategy without first doing this is equivalent to building a house without foundations – or worse, rotten ones.

Data is the great enabler here. By analysing trends in hiring or promotions data, employers can see straight away if they’re demonstrating preference to a particular group of people. Once this data is collected, it needs to be reviewed from diverse perspectives to avoid injecting any kind of bias into the analysis.

Equipped with quantitative and qualitative insights, DE&I leaders can then set about developing a blueprint for change and measuring the efficacy of their actions. If they find that their hiring process often targets individuals from similar backgrounds, for example, they can look at ways to widen the recruitment net. This might include using strategies like the Rooney Rule, which helps to ensure time and effort is spent in widening the pipeline and interviewing all qualified candidates before a hiring decision is made.

The guidelines above are just a starter-pack for those with DE&I responsibilities looking to implement a successful strategy. There are of course other things that need to be considered, such as how well any initiatives and policies translate to the virtual world of work many of us are now in.

Most importantly, employers must be willing to listen intelligently. Employees should be given the opportunity to voice their opinions and share their concerns, while leaders must make a concerted effort to incorporate the views of employees into their DE&I strategies. This is crucial for ensuring that your employees come on this journey with you, and power your organisation through real transformational change.

Sheree Atcheson - PeakonAbout the author

Listed as one of the UK’s Top Most Influential Women in Tech & an international multi-award winner for her services to Diversity & Inclusion in industry, Sheree Atcheson is the Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Peakon and a board member at Women Who Code. She is the Author of “Demanding More” (with Kogan Page Publishing) – a book which aims to teach readers about how deliberate exclusion has been in systems and society, so we can be purposefully and deliberately inclusive moving forward.


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