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Developing a diversity and inclusion strategy: what’s involved in the process?

Dr Katie Spearritt shares the benefits of a data-driven approach and how Diversity Partners works with organisations to provide comprehensive strategies.

Is your organisation developing a diversity and inclusion strategy, or refining an existing plan?

Dr Katie Spearritt shares the benefits of a data-driven approach and how Diversity Partners works with organisations to provide comprehensive strategies.

What does a diversity and inclusion strategy usually include?

It articulates what your organisation is hoping to achieve. That might be an improvement in the level of inclusion experienced by all employees, improved gender balance and cultural diversity, and better representation of people with disability. Many organisations add a customer lens as well, such as improving inclusive product and service design so they can reach more diverse markets.

A good strategy is specific about those goals, showing where the organisation currently stands and what the anticipated future state looks like. And it sets out why your organisation is focusing on improving diversity and inclusion, how it aligns with cultural and commercial objectives.

The strategy will have focus areas that address the challenges identified in the diagnostic research preceding the strategy. Most have specific actions and measures for a two-to-three-year period. The metrics – for leaders and organisations – are crucial. Organisations then add who is responsible for what.

You mention the diagnostic process. What’s that involve?

When we’re engaged by an organisation to help develop its diversity and inclusion strategy, we start with a diagnostic or audit. We learn about the organisation: their objectives, history, culture.

Then we set about collecting as much data as we can with an intersectional lens, things like workforce representation, pay gaps, attrition and promotion rates, employee engagement survey results.

We use an assessment with twelve criteria to determine how progressed an organisation is on the D&I journey. This is step one in the development of the strategy.

To provide industry benchmarks, we often use data from the Australian Network on Disability, Workplace Gender Equality Agency Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation requirements and the Australian Workplace Equality Index (national benchmark on LGBTQ workplace inclusion).

Step two is about consultation. That can include a survey of employees, interviews and focus groups. We want to hear intersectional experiences, so getting inputs from employees from diverse backgrounds is obviously important. Through the consultation, we focus on capturing examples of what’s working well as well as areas for improvements. Focusing on actions to ‘do more of’ is a key part of our approach.

After this diagnostic phase, we collate themes from the data and consultation and recommend quick wins and longer-term initiatives to accelerate progress, based on local and global best practice research. We share quotes from interviews and focus groups to illustrate themes but are careful not to identify any individuals.

We discuss the strategy with key stakeholders to determine priorities, timeframes and resourcing.

What’s the benefit of having a diversity and inclusion strategy?

If your organisation doesn’t have a diversity and inclusion strategy, you might find there’s a lot of ad-hoc activity, employee resource groups may be doing their own thing and competing for resources and funding, and there may be limited accountability for achieving progress.

Without a strategy, diversity and inclusion progress is rarely sustained.

We find the diagnostic process that precedes the strategy – having conversations with people through focus groups – also helps to build engagement and motivation to act. People often tell us they’ve been waiting to have this conversation for a long time and are so relieved to have the space to share their lived experiences.

What types of organisations has Diversity Partners worked with?

We’ve helped hundreds of organisations in Australia and New Zealand develop their diversity and inclusion strategies over the past fifteen years. They’re from a large variety of sectors: resources, energy, transport, IT, health, sport, media and entertainment, financial services, as well as public sector entities and not-for-profits.

Our clients often comment on the value of the process being run externally to encourage candid responses in focus groups and to bring specialist advice and industry insights.

About Dr Katie Spearritt

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