04 June 2019

Why Building a D&I Strategy Gives Your Organization a Competitive Advantage

The Power of Diversity
Building a D&I strategy


Vanessa Paisley

Deloitte codifies the equation: “Diversity + inclusion = better business outcomes.” It sounds like a simple modus operandi, right? Building a D&I strategy that values employees, treating them with open-mindedness and respect in a safe environment gives them the space to thrive. If statistics show that Diversity and Inclusion in companies produce above-average financial results, why are companies still slow in progressing with such initiatives?

According to Forbes, “those who embrace diversity will be more likely to prosper, and those who ignore it will be more likely to fail”. For this reason, posts addressing diversity plaster our newsfeeds on a daily basis.

But building an effective D&I strategy is no easy feat – it requires heavy-duty, inclusive leadership.

Does your company talk a lot about Diversity & Inclusion? Does it offer training on how to implement it?

It is not uncommon for many to claim they support and celebrate D&I, but when it comes down to strategy, they lack personnel that has the skill set or experience to develop these strategies. Furthermore, if they do employ a diversity leader it falls on the shoulders of one person and not a department.

Diversity Matters
A course to help build diverse and inclusive organizations
Diversity Matters
A course to help build diverse and inclusive organizations

According to a recent HBR article, employers very often get the diversity part of D&I but fail to implement inclusion. Employers recognize that it is important to have a diverse workforce and that diversity delivers creativity to a company.

However, they often fail to address inclusion in the workplace to increase retention and encourage talent to maximize their strengths. It is precisely this creation of synergic diversity that should be the baseline of any D&I strategy.

So let’s look at a few reasons why senior managers need to move on from the discussion stage and get a D&I strategy in place.

Boosting motivation amongst the workforce

Satisfaction at work is a business case for D&I in itself as a happier workforce is more productive. Happier workplaces help companies to work better – studies on this go back to the 1930s starting with the Hawthorne experiment.

We also now know that diversity increases employee engagement as it is a trust booster (Deloitte). This needs to be supported in building a D&I strategy that can ensure that employees from the widest range of backgrounds and circumstances can build their career in an organization and achieve their maximum potential.

This will create a positive atmosphere in the company but it must come from the top – it takes inclusive leadership capabilities to encourage a positive shift in workplace behavior.

The value of diversity and inclusion needs to be tangibly understood. Diversity goes beyond demographic diversity (race and gender) to cover other areas such as cognitive diversity (education and personality).

© Diversity Wheel, Diversity Leadership Council, Johns Hopkins University

From the leadership point of view today, organizations that do not pay sufficient attention to ‘personality’ and ‘cultural’ variables are consistently less successful than those that do.

So the competitive advantage of D&I is embedded in a trickle-down effect which encourages inclusion and equality – peer to peer feedback and think tanks that are led by all levels of staff are on the agenda to spread employee satisfaction.

A diverse workforce is sometimes a wealth of untapped assets and employees shouldn’t feel that their talents are wasted. Include them and they are happy.

Further reading

Sharing progress with the outside world is the winning card

Companies that have a good strategy in place have the winning D&I card as a lot of the figures just don’t match up.

To measure inclusion running focus groups to gain an insight into employees’ well-being is essential. By gathering company data on employee satisfaction should be collected and analyzed based upon different groups within an organization.

Looking at happiness based on gender, nationality, age or length of employment is a useful approach to achieving more inclusion. Not just a tick-the-boxes exercise, culture is a fluid phenomenon and measuring tools need to change regularly.

Showing outside the arena that you are active in promoting diversity is important for your company’s image.  Compliance and numbers are all good but people want to see engagement and meaningful actions.

Stats are hard facts and the business world wants to see what you are doing on the bottom line and not just an empty slogan.

Organizations that embrace diversity ensure that it permeates at all levels and via lots of channels. Values that your organization will recruit with and manage by. And then good people will want to work for you!

From difference to discovery

We all prefer to spend time with PLU (people like us) – sticking to the familiar and people with similar ideologies. However, in a shifting world, letting our unconscious bias go unquestioned just doesn’t work.

It is time to look beyond the “group think” and dig deep into curiosity. Building a successful D&I strategy means catalyzing the synergistic diversity of its workforce driving innovation and creating the best ideas.

Diversity Matters
A course to help build diverse and inclusive organizations
Diversity Matters
A course to help build diverse and inclusive organizations

Curiosity hasn’t received a good press over the centuries. The old English proverb “Curiosity killed the cat” implies that being inquisitive about other people’s affairs may get you into trouble.

It has its roots in sixteenth-century Britain, playwrights such as Shakespeare and Johnson often used them in their works. In Don Juan, Lord Byron called curiosity “that low vice”. Five hundred years later it cannot be disputed that being curious is positive for the thought processes behind any organization.

Diversity needs to be embraced at all levels of an organization. Sharpening Cultural Intelligence and finding out about the needs and wishes of individual employees will take your company on a new voyage. Having managers with an open-door policy and creating a safe environment is important.

Managers who demonstrate empathetic leadership will lead the way in creating an inclusive environment.

Of course, employees need training in turning conflict and difference into results and D&I training is a great supplement to D&I strategies and initiatives to help bring teams together.

Diversity & Inclusion training teaches people to be teachable again.

It ought to provide hands-on tips and a plan to develop your bouncing back skills. So that the next time your employees are confronted with opinions that are not their own, they can stop, reflect and see how this “difference” could benefit their project.

In the past curiosity may have killed the cat but D&I managers can respond by saying that “satisfaction brought it back”!

Retention of employees

Diversity and Inclusion-savvy companies are empowered with diversity at every level. Great companies such as the American giant Exelon have seen financial gains from implementing diversity and inclusion.

The company offers mentorship and sponsorship programs and recently launched a workforce development initiative in Washington, D.C.

These kinds of programs allow people to be open about their feelings and thoughts on where they are going. Middle managers, who often get overlooked as valuable connectors of soft skills should be a key part of the journey.

Further reading

“Diversity and inclusion are not for people who have been excluded. It’s for all of us. It’s for our business to get better. It’s for us to be smarter. It’s for us to be more perceptive as a collective organization.”
Von Hoene, Chief Strategy Officer, Exelon

In an ideal world, leaders would be able to understand their employees and ensure they didn’t lose any through neglect. In reality, however, most aren’t au fait with the factors that can get in the way of knowing what’s important to employees both individually and collectively.

It takes methods such as sporadic satisfaction surveys, focus groups, and one-to-one conversations to guide management in taking the actions that will help keep their workforce engaged and committed to the organization.

The first step in retaining more employees is to use these methods.

So what are you waiting for?

Regarding difference as a difficulty is the mistake made by many individuals in companies and organizations.

There have always been age differences in a workforce and those who are clever enough to see the benefits of having millennials working alongside the over-50s, for example, are leading the way in talent development.

Make sure you diagnose what kinds of differences your company needs to address but identify the areas of diversity that run well too.

Starting with a final destination in mind for your organization allows an effective, tailored strategy with returns on shareholder engagement.

By building an effective D&I strategy, a company shows the value it assigns to difference, and advertises its commitment to developing the best talent in an organization, regardless of gender, nationality, age or sexual orientation.

It demands dedication and commitment but the ROI will make it worth your while, both ethically and financially.

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