When your organisation is starting to focus on diversity and inclusion, it can be hard to know where to begin. Focus on education for leaders? Conduct research to understand more about our own workforce and future needs? Develop a D&I action plan?
This question was put to us last week by an organisation in the Australian construction industry. Setting its 2023 people priorities, the organisation wants to hire from a broader talent pool as business grows. It also wants to ensure people feel safe to speak up with concerns, questions, and ideas – the essence of an inclusive (and innovative, high- performance) workplace culture.
So, where to start? The answer is rarely straightforward, but a good first step is to undertake a diversity and inclusion diagnostic or audit. This helps identify challenges and opportunities to improving diversity at all levels, and ways to attract talent beyond the traditional hire.
A diagnostic also helps identify whether the culture is one where different thinking approaches and lived experiences are valued, because that’s important to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds.
Most importantly, a diagnostic provides important inputs to a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. As so many leaders share with us, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ until there’s a diversity and inclusion spotlight.
‘As so many leaders share with us, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ until there’s a diversity and inclusion spotlight.’
What’s involved in a diagnostic?
When we conduct a diagnostic for clients, we work with each organisation to identify relevant sites, operations, and staff to participate in the research.
We typically start with a review of the workforce profile such as gender, age, cultural diversity, representation of people with disability and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, if that data is available. We assess promotion, attrition, gender segregation, pay equity, among many other data points. We draw on industry data, census data, and many other external benchmarks, and review relevant HR policies. That’s the quantitative part of our research.
The qualitative part comes from interviews, focus groups, and staff surveys to understand more about the lived experience of people at all levels. An intersectional lens is an important part of our approach. We pull together themes from the combined sets of data and recommend quick wins and longer-term initiatives to accelerate progress, based on local and global research. We share quotes from interviews and focus groups to illustrate themes but are careful not to identify any individuals.
Identify actions to ‘see more of’
Sometimes senior leaders get nervous about what a diagnostic might uncover. That’s understandable if these questions are being asked for the first time, or a culture of ‘good news only’ prevails.
But not doing a diagnostic misses an opportunity to develop targeted initiatives that address what’s really going on. (We know it’s tempting to jump into developing a mentoring program or offer an unconscious bias program, but is it really the most effective step?)
We find that, in many cases, leaders aren’t all that surprised by our findings; rather, they often confirm what many see or experience but aren’t sure if that experience is shared by others. The value we add is setting out clear themes and a way forward.
Diagnostics can also uncover potential risks that may be psychologically harmful to employees and expensive for organisations if addressed too late. Integrating new Respect@Work guidelines and psychosocial health and safety regulations in D&I strategies is a growing priority.
Our diagnostics don’t just focus on what needs improving. We give attention to strengths, quick wins, and specific actions to ‘do more of’. This approach is a key component of effective cultural change and growth, as leadership experts in Harvard Business Review highlight: When it comes to organisational culture change, leaders too often fall into the trap of declaring the culture shifts they hope to see. Instead, they need to spotlight examples of actions they hope to see more of within the culture (our emphasis).
‘Our diagnostics don’t just focus on what needs improving. We give attention to strengths, quick wins, and specific actions to ‘do more of’.’
Having led more than 150 diagnostics for organisations of all sizes over the past decade, we draw on what works based on our experience and Australian and global benchmarks. What’s more, we find the diagnostic process itself – by talking with people through interviews and focus groups – is usually a catalyst for broader leader engagement and motivation.
What else could we do?
Apart from a diagnostic, there are other ways to start or re-energise efforts depending on business activities, organisation size, budget, and readiness for change. Here’s a few suggestions to deliver a few modest wins that can build momentum:
- Ask senior leaders in their team meeting to articulate the benefit of a greater focus on diversity for their people, potential recruits, customers, and stakeholders – it starts to build the business case.
- Start a group conversation among senior leaders about the types of inclusive behaviours expected of all teams, especially with the renewed focus on harassment and discrimination through new Respect @ Work legislation.
- Consider adding diversity-related questions to your 2023 staff engagement survey.
- Start gathering data about your workforce, including demographic information, recruitment, and attrition rates from your HR system.
- Conduct ‘listening sessions’ with employees with different lived experiences to identify potential barriers to greater diversity and inclusion.