A few years ago, I wrote about the shift from Diversity to Inclusion and how top companies are not only focusing on diversifying their teams but also how to create a more inclusive environment. Unfortunately, not much has changed since then. In fact, the current pandemic crisis is putting the small gains of equity we’ve made at risk as organizations tend to take a “last in, first out” approach to layoffs and furloughs, thereby impacting diverse employees to a much greater degree.
So what is going to be different looking at 2021 and beyond?
Growing Momentum For More Regulated, Equitable Workplace
The recent events in our society, racial unrest and the slow pace of change have raised the importance of equity to the forefront. Simply having a diverse workforce or an inclusive culture is not going to suffice as diverse employees seek equal opportunities to develop themselves and move up in the ranks. The importance of creating an equitable workplace is drawing the attention of regulatory bodies like the State of California that recently mandated companies to have a diverse board (and subsequently reported 669 board seats were filled by women since 2018) and NASDAQ that recently required listed companies to report their diversity statistics. These mandates are going to accelerate the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) from the top which should trickle down to make a real change in organizations and communities.
Corporations Leading by Example
While research has continuously proven that highly inclusive companies outperform their less inclusive peers up to four times, employees are also making their voices heard by staging walkouts and demanding more from their employers. Organizations are taking note and recognizing that they have an important part to play in advancing racial equity which is ultimately good for business. Both the business and social voices are now being heard and validated by organizations and their leadership. In 2020 alone, we saw companies like Starbucks tie executive pay to diversity targets, Apple launch a $100M Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, and BASF announce a new Courageous and Compassionate Conversations Initiative which focuses on racism and discrimination. While these pioneers are the early movers to make a real change in their workplace and communities, others will follow especially as these early adopters overachieve their less inclusive rivals.
DEI Strategy Replacing Check-the-box Solutions
Last (but perhaps the most important), organizations are recognizing that a check-the-box solution is not going to cut it. To really create a diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace culture, organizations must form a business strategy that can really tackle the underlying systemic hurdles to creating a DEI culture and put resources behind it. For too long, organizations have focused on hiring and hitting diversity targets, but as Josh Bersin said:
“It’s not just about recruiting minority candidates, it’s an entire HR supply chain issue. Diversity is really the outcome of an inclusive culture. This is really a business strategy.”
So how do we move from focusing on hiring diverse candidates to building a DEI strategy? According to Harvard Business Review, one of the most impactful programs that organizations can run is a formal mentoring program. Interlacing mentoring throughout the employee journey can ensure employees have equal opportunities to overcome systemic disadvantages and create equal opportunities in the workplace.
Three Stages of the Employee Journey That Help Create an Equitable Workplace
From the very first day of work, diverse workers may already be at a disadvantage due to a lack of access to networks or opportunities due to different academic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Forward-thinking organizations are able to level the playing field for all their new hires by creating an onboarding buddy program to ensure that new hires have equal opportunities to interact, engage and learn from mentors or organizational ambassadors. In being mindful of diverse pairings, organizations can also promote greater interaction and engagement across workplace functions and employee demographics from day one.
According to a Lean In Study, 24% of women are less likely than men to get advice from senior leaders and 62% of women of color say the lack of an influential mentor holds them back. Furthermore, “one of the most powerful ways to drive equitable outcomes is through sponsorship” and “sponsorship often starts through a mentoring relationship.” By creating a career development mentoring program that’s open to all participants, organizations can open up mentoring relationships that wouldn’t form organically, thereby looking beyond the hiring phase and helping diverse employees move up through the ranks.
Most organizations have some form of talent and leadership development which is often isolated from DEI initiatives. This siloed approach not only limits the full potential of developing talent, but also contributes to a less inclusive and equitable workplace. HR and DEI leaders need to work together to create equal opportunities for all to fully maximize the potential of their workforce and shift from Leadership Development to Inclusive Leadership Development. Organizations that understand the importance of this dynamic are able to pair existing programs like employee resource groups (ERGs) with mentoring circles to create communities for their diverse employees to seek resources and peer support to overcome systemic challenges in their organizations. Other examples include reverse mentoring for DEI which helps to create equal opportunities for developing diverse talent pools by exposing senior leaders to underrepresented employees and the unique challenges they may face in the workplace.
While research has long proven that organizations with a DEI strategy outperform their peers, recent events have solidified the importance of creating an equitable world and highlighted how interconnected we truly are. Organizations that have already built a strong DEI culture are not only more likely to rebound from this pandemic, but they will have a significant advantage over their peers especially as regulators and employees continue to highlight the importance of DEI.
2020 brought a lot of change to the workplace, but most importantly, it resurfaced the systemic challenges that underrepresented employees are facing in our society, and the effect these challenges can have if left unaddressed. Each one of us has a responsibility to look both inside and outside our business walls to make change. At Chronus, we’re continuing to examine how diversity, equity and inclusion are playing a role within our organization, identifying our weaknesses while fortifying our strengths—from both a team position, as well as in the product arena.
While there is still work to be done, we have made intentional strides this year, including the launch of our Mentoring for Racial Equity grant program, which named Forever Kings, a nonprofit aimed to challenge the social norms, explicit biases, and stigmas associated with boys and young men of color, as our first recipient. I am proud to work with the Chronus team where we see mentoring as a critical avenue to creating a more equitable world, and are spreading and enabling the power of mentoring in the organizations we work with and the world beyond.