Is your D&I Approach Getting Lost in the Chain of Command?

By Robin Schooling, on March 18, 2021

Many organizational leaders have stated their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Those who prioritize it also ensure the investment of resources in order to support either a full-on transformation or strengthening the D&I components of their company’s culture. Quite often, of course, HR leaders are tasked with D&I, which seems like a natural resting place because the D&I journey includes a review of people processes including talent attraction, pay equity and career pathing.  

Obviously ongoing support and buy-in from senior leaders is integral to success. They set the tone and are necessary partners for any workplace re-design that must occur in order to remove systemic barriers. Most importantly, they model the expected behaviors through both their words and actions as they work to purposefully build inclusion and equity across the organization.  

But while the involvement of these leaders is critical, frontlineUnposed group of creative business people in an open concept office brainstorming their next project.-1 supervisors and managers have a much greater impact just as they do when there is any change management or cultural shift. Supervisors, after all, are the ones hiring, training, coaching, and making people decisions. They are the ones who will “make or break” any steps you take toward making inclusion part of the cultural DNA. 

So how do you get them involved? How do you make sure they’re not the bottleneck in getting your message into the hands, hearts and souls of your employees? Much as with any shift or change within an organization, a key component is getting these people managers on board as champions, ambassadors and even co-creators.   

Things to Avoid 

Refrain from labeling D&I initiatives a “program. In HR we are inordinately fond of using the word program to categorize everything from leadership to performance management to employee engagement. Unfortunately, the use of this terminology will sound the death-knell for any of your D&I initiatives. Why? Because, to the average supervisor, it signals an over-complicated, bureaucratic and policy-driven process filled with deadlines, checklists and oversight by the corporate overlords.  Language matters when it comes to people inclusion; language also matters when it comes to communicating your D&I vision. 

To-Do Lists and Superficial Tracking. The use of data, analytics and research is an important element to inform decisions and actions within D&I, but don’t make the mistake of tracking the wrong things in the name of “data.” And while goals and timelines make sense, you need to be careful that you don’t confuse busy-work activity with driving real impact and change. Quite often, when on the D&I journey, there’s an attempt to demonstrate something at critical mass such as reporting back to the CEO that “85% of employees have attended implicit bias training in the first 90 days!”  But ticking boxes and performative activities, for the sake of “doing something,” does nothing to drive substantive and meaningful behavioral change and usually only serves to frustrate managers who must add to-do items to their already jam-packed workloads.  

Referring to Individuals as “Diverse” The word diverse describes a group...not an individual. Thus, the use of the phrase “a diverse candidate/employee is both grammatically and conceptually incorrect. Rather, we need to make sure our front-line supervisors and leaders use the correct terminology such as “a candidate from an underrepresented background” or “a Black woman” or “a person of color.”  In other words, a team can be diverse...a singular person cannot.  

Language matters...and using the right language leads to both understanding and long-term behavioral changes. 

Things to Do 

Address equity issuesDiversity is about recognizing and celebrating uniqueness while inclusion refers to providing a fair and consistent experience for everyone. Ensuring equity, however, means we provide equality of treatment, consistent opportunitiesand access to information and resources for all. Front-line supervisors and department leaders are often the ones who manage both the flow of information and the access to resources (people, information, systems) for their employees. As part of the evaluation of the current state of D&I, HR leaders should evaluate they ways and means in which employees have access to “power” as determined by the day-to-day actions of front-line supervisors. How are schedules devised? Which employees are called upon for “plum” assignments? What does the data from performance evaluations and ratings signify, if anything, about differences in evaluation and feedback criteria for different employee populations?   

Have Real ConversationsThe actions of front-line supervisors and managers (or inaction as the case may be) can make-or-break your D&I approach but it’s important to frame your conversations with them in the context of their role. Someone running a production unit or supervising the call-center staff is probably not placing the same importance on D&I as HR or the leadership team. Your role, therefore, is to help them see the connection to their day-to-day by keeping D&I at the forefront of your communication. Regularly share data on whatever D&I goals you’re tracking at the organizational and department level such as employee experience surveys and engagement scores, recruiting outcomes, and promotional data. Implement a process to track this data in order to easily identify trends. Schedule time to speak, individually, with supervisors to verify their understanding of the impact they can have in these areas.  

Approach D&I as a Component of your Cultural DNADiversity and inclusion is not something to only be discussed or celebrated during certain months of the year. It’s not social media posts from your company’s marketing department. It’s not an annual statement from the CEO. D&I is not a meme, placed on your recruitment channels, when you feel it’s important to stand in solidarity with a marginalized group or in reaction to a public event.  D&I is a value. D&I is the norms upheld by your organization. DI& is defined by the behaviors and actions of the people within your organization...continuously and every day. Not just what they say...but what they do. Every day. 

For years we’ve talked about the business case for diversity and inclusion; it’s sold well to the folks inhabiting C-Suites and sitting on Boards of Directors. But it’s far past time to change up the conversation. D&I – and equity and belonging – is a human issue. HR leaders, with their understanding of organizational dynamics, their understanding of people data analytics, and their ability to lead change initiatives should now confidently be making the moral case for meaningful D&I work within their organizations. 

For all people. Top to bottom. Up and down the chain of command.    

Robin Schooling
Robin Schooling

Robin Schooling, currently Principal HR + People Strategy Consultant with Peridus Group, has worked the HR beat in various leadership roles since the days of the fax machine and rolodex. She’s a global speaker, has been blogging for a decade, and is co-host of Drive Thru HR. Find her on Twitter and you might get to see pictures of her three (yes, 3) dogs. 

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