By: Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc. Author of Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget.
A common phrase we hear as diversity practitioners is: “they just don’t get it”, referring to the leadership team. With the right conditions, “they do get it”. Before you dismiss your leadership as old, patriarchal, stagnating entities read this. A change in approach could make a big difference.
If you feel like you are speaking to a brick wall, perhaps it is time to rethink how you are communicating your message. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out that your leadership team is actually on your side, but you just haven’t given them any compelling reasons to change.
Getting buy-in from the top involves the: “who”, “what”, “when”, “why” and “how”. If one of those pieces is missing, they might “just not get it”!
Who – Who is/are the designated spokesperson(s) to represent diversity and inclusion in your workplace? Are they well respected by their colleagues and the leadership team? Are they known to be balanced, fair and pragmatic? Do they have an “agenda”? Outspoken about selective issues while silent about other inequities? Does this person have a history of bringing people together or pulling them apart? Do they have a good understanding of the competencies in the organization and know how to use them? The person(s) in this role can have a huge impact on the success of your diversity and inclusion strategy.
If you are the spokesperson and reaching an impasse, it may be that you are not the right person for the position, and let someone else take over. (Note: When you are selecting a D&I officer for your organization, you should ask yourself the questions noted above before you make your final selection).
What – What is the message you are presenting to the leadership team? For example, if you live in a relatively homogenous location, focusing on visible minority recruitment might not be the most effective strategy especially if there are none where you live. However, looking at retention strategies, or addressing the issues facing women leaders might be more relevant. The subjects you approach the leadership must match their strategic priorities. Concentrate on what is on their agenda by showing them how diversity and inclusion strategies can help them attain their mission. Approach them in a positive light rather than a negative one. For example, telling the leadership that the organization is racist, sexist and homophobic might not be the best lead in. However, if you have conducted a staff engagement survey and your findings support your assertions, share that information with them along with ideas on how to create greater workplace inclusion. Instead of making diversity and inclusion a separate part of the organization, show the leadership that it is part of everything that you do. Examine ways that D&I can be integrated into existing training as well as policies and procedures.
Any initiatives that you take on must incorporate: • The mission and values of your organization; • Create more workplace harmony leading to improved performance; • Be very practical in nature. (Many organizations have dropped “awareness and empathy-generating” types of training because they do not encourage practical skill building).
When – “Time is money”. Training dollars have been scaled back and that is why you have to make the most out of bringing people together. The activities and the training you choose to take on do not always have to be labelled as “diversity training”. It may be better if they are not; especially if your organization’s last experience wasn’t so good. Try to incorporate D&I into the existing compulsory training. Enhance and infuse existing training such as presentation skills, customer service, health and safety with D&I. It can be done without a lot of effort, and you have an automatic captive audience. Leaders can be overwhelmed with a lot of new ideas. Starting small could be a better strategy if you are dealing with risk averse leaders.
Why – Frequently the “why’s” have not been presented in a convincing enough manner. You can refer to the results of your employee engagement survey (if that has occurred) or tie it into policies and legislation guiding your workplace. Refer to studies on diversity and innovation. Google “the business case for diversity” and show them the facts that support a more inclusive workplace.
How – Remember that diversity and inclusion is about everyone. Choose research that focuses on all aspects of our changing workplace demographics. When you take this approach, a statistic or statistics will stand out with your leadership. If your organization embarks on strategic planning this is a good opportunity to provide staff survey results and relevant information you would like to collect and measure. Embedding it into existing work can be a little more palatable for those who may be reticent to come on board.