- IMD Business School

Getting diversity & inclusion right

5 min.
August 2019

A good number of Fortune 500’s have been setting best practices and leading the way in the complicated field of Diversity and Inclusion, yet, others are still questioning the why’s and how’s of D&I. Many organizations face a new reality: a changing workforce, intensifying war for talent, and customer expectations are driving them to take a stand, act, and adopt Diversity and Inclusion as a business and brand imperative.

If your organization is starting out on this journey, it is important to see these two elements as unique and intertwined. Diversity means creating a heterogeneous talent pool, while inclusion is cultivating an environment of ‘belonging’ for everyone.

Here is a simple guide to help you get off to a good start:

1- What diversity do you need?

Gender, age, ability, LGBTQ or ethnicity? Will you choose one or more attributes – and why? Be aware of your talent pool and how diversity can take it to the next level. How does your current state compare to the regions where you want to grow, or to your customer or  stakeholder needs? What about your brand reputation or your competitors? What does diversity mean to you? Inclusion is different – it is the glue that binds and brings the best out of your diverse talent pool. This needs a separate strand of work within your Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) strategy.

2- How does diversity fit your business strategy?

Too often, organizations confuse great intentions and ‘activities’ with an impactful D&I strategy. D&I must always make good business sense. What are your key strategic and business reasons for adopting D&I? For example, if growth is projected in Asia, does your talent pool reflect that footprint? What strategic benefits come from diversity and inclusion? What happens if you do nothing? Are you attracting the best? Do they stay? The global war for top talent is only intensifying. This talent wants to work for organizations that make them feel included and valued.

3- What is the impact on your communities?

Global organizations play an important role in the communities in which they operate. D&I initiatives must embrace and reflect the diversity of these communities. Does your business require engagement with different stakeholders than in the past? Does your current leadership and high potential talent reflect the world in which you operate? How do you ensure that all talent in your markets has the same opportunities? Is your brand inclusive of all market segments? How do you measure that?

4- Who designs and delivers your D&I strategy?

Is this a junior or senior position? What is the reporting structure? D&I touches on the culture of an entire organization, and this is reflected in the human resources you allocate to its implementation. The quality and seniority of your global head of D&I indicates how seriously your organization takes this challenge. Who will lead your D&I strategy? Do you need to outsource until in-house skills are developed? Does this person have the ‘weight’ and credibility necessary? Are they positioned for utmost impact and support? Will they have sufficient budget and headcount? What role will you give to your HR function, your leaders and your employees in this journey?

5- Are you ready for difficult conversations and tough decisions?

Dilemmas and conflicts will arise, opinions will override agreements, and personal biases will hinder conversations. Are you willing to make the hard decisions? For example, what do you do when equally qualified candidates appear? How will you handle potential versus experience? Will you lead by talking or doing? How will you reward early adopters and champions? How will you deal with blockers? How will you hold your leaders accountable? How do you ensure a resilient and relentless focus on the delivery of your D&I strategy?

Do Don’t
Employ a full-time, senior leader with proven, global D&I experience Set the role at junior level or think someone can ‘learn it’ quickly
Adopt a robust D&I change management approach Think it will take care of itself through random diversity-related actions
Provide appropriate headcount and budget Expect one full- or part-time person to make a difference
Set traceable stretch targets and measure success Shy away from clear and tangible targets
Make it part of the talent framework: Address leadership and hold everyone accountable Think right behaviors are implied and understood by all
Revisit all HR processes to eliminate hidden hurdles and embed D&I Create a list of random diversity actions to look like ‘something is being done’
Consider it a Culture Change initiative Restrict it to HR or legal
Communicate D&I as driving innovation and growth Present it as a zero-sum game
Focus on early wins and people’s good intentions Focus exclusively on what doesn’t work, and hidden privileges
Understand some groups may be unhappy about change and create bridges Allow personal opinions and emotions to become barriers
Lead by example Avoid difficult decisions and conversations
Realize it’s an ongoing journey with highs and lows Look at it as a program with a beginning and an end


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