Innovative thinking can get us out of unforeseen, major crises like the COVID pandemic, but the people behind those ideas are the ones that create value. The question is—are organizations valuing their differences and the diverse viewpoints they bring to the table?
Innovative thinking is at the core of organizational and societal success. We have learned this lesson amid the global pandemic, and we are seeing how individuals and businesses are using technology to create a new and better world. However, as we continue to build and grow, we need to remember that people are at the heart of innovation. In this changing world, we must ask if organizations are doing everything possible to value people's differences and the broad range of viewpoints they bring to their work lives.
Research shows that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues linked to innovation. Organizations with inclusive cultures are also six times as likely to be innovative and agile. Diverse and inclusive teams lead to better business decisions up to 87% of the time. These statistics make it clear that inclusion and diversity (I&D) are critical business drivers.
Many companies have struggled to keep their I&D efforts focused during the pandemic, but it is possible to get back on track. Cyient recently conducted a series of unique CXO panel discussions where we brought together business leaders from varied industries across North America, Europe, and the Asia Pacific to understand how they are addressing I&D priorities in a post-COVID world. Here are some highlights from our discussion with industry leaders in Europe and North America in the first of this two-part blog series.
Attracting diverse talent requires a change in perceptions
In a McKinsey survey, 87% of business leaders said they are dealing with a skill gap or expect to in a few years. Analysis of talent in the UK reveals that 94% of the workforce lacked access and exposure to the skills they will require in 2030. With technologies and business models evolving rapidly, organizations need to think about how Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) can enhance hiring, capability building, and reskilling of the workforce. In the US, an organization committed to diversity attracts better talent, especially among millennials, who will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. As much as 83% of millennials feel empowered and engaged in the workplace when they believe their company fosters an authentically inclusive culture.
Industry-specific perceptions can be a roadblock to attracting diverse candidates. For example, women make up less than a quarter of the workforce in the nuclear sector globally, and aside from gender-neutral job descriptions, a lot more can be done to bring balance. "We're reframing the conversation, especially for those who are just entering the workforce early on in their career," explains Evonne Bennett Brown, Chief Diversity Officer, Westinghouse Electric Company." When we talk about sustainability and weave a story around clean, carbon-free energy solutions, prospective employees across groups sit up and listen."
Prospective employees are also becoming more selective and intentionally watching what companies do. "People are rethinking what work means to them. They seek organizations that are authentic and a part of the change that is needed today. They want to see leadership and a C-suite that represents them," says Donald Thompson, CEO, The Diversity Movement. From a moral imperative to a business necessity, a diverse talent base is crucial to rebuilding post-pandemic. "Job seekers today prefer a more inclusive company, especially those that have inclusivity ingrained into their brand values and are committed to taking action," adds Vicky Sleight, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, TM Forum.
Diversity without intentional inclusion doesn't work
Diversity alone doesn't suffice—it's the intention behind inclusion that creates a positive impact. "When we talk about inclusion, we should focus on intentionality. Because if you don't intentionally include individuals into what you're doing, then you risk excluding them," explains Evonne. An inclusive workplace should embrace intersectionality through diversity and empower people who belong to more than one underrepresented category. For example, an employee who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community may also be a single African American parent. Successful inclusion considers the interplay of identities across gender, sexuality, socio-economic status, mental health, religion, parenting status, and other dimensions of diversity. "The way I think about it is that diversity means having different sets of voices within the organization, and inclusion is the ability to listen to those voices. They are just two sides of the same coin," says Aashu Virmani, VP, and Global Client Partner, Cyient.
Collins Aerospace leverages Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to ensure intentional inclusion and engagement across nine groups—ability, African American, Asia-Pacific, generations, Hispanic, military/veterans, LGBTQ/pride, professional, and women. "Our goal is not just to respect each of these voices, but to show them that we are committed to making sure that their voice is heard," adds Dorothea Wong, Executive Director, Global General Procurement at Collins Aerospace. The pandemic has also put the spotlight on how specific groups have been impacted at work and home. "We looked at how certain segments of our employees, such as working parents and differently-abled employees, responded to the pandemic and crafted region-specific policies that would support them," says Dessi Berhane Silassie, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, APAC and FS GC, at IHS Markit.
I&D cannot rest with HR alone; Accountability is necessary at all levels
I&D is about people, so it makes sense that it should align with the HR function. Sustainable change occurs when diversity strategies are worked into the broader corporate strategy and day-to-day decisions. There is a risk of I&D getting stuck as policies and fragmented initiatives if it does not make it out of the boardroom to frontline professionals. "I'm seeing a lot of companies hire a chief diversity officer, but they don't surround or support that individual with executive team mentors who understand the landscape of how things are actually done in the organization," Donald says. Automation can help make these policies more accessible and actionable across teams and functions by integrating them into the daily workflow.
Westinghouse Electric Company is democratizing employee involvement in their diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy across the organization. Each business unit and function has a DEI action plan that is aligned to the overall strategy, yet reflects their specific needs. "Anyone in the business unit from the shop floor to the management team can access the plan and understand where the organization is going. Everybody knows how to engage and how they are accountable," explains Evonne.
Cyient also believes that the onus of integrating I&D into the organization's DNA cannot rest solely on one individual or function. Through the Inclusion Ambassador Program, Cyient creates inclusion ambassadors across the organization. Their goal is to help nudge others in the right direction. These small steps lead to widespread transformation.
A culture of open communication makes inclusion easier
A diverse organization recognizes that not everyone has the same day-to-day experience at the workplace. Regular discussion and communication followed by specific actions and feedback are key to better understanding these differences. For example, Collins Aerospace uses "lunch and learn" sessions to reinforce its commitment to putting inclusion and diversity into action. They also use a "start, stop, and continue" initiative, which empowers employees to share what the organization needs to start and stop doing while identifying what works or needs minor changes. Private one-on-one get-to-know-you sessions for talent across diverse groups enable employees to voice what they are thinking in a safe environment.
"It's important that we create a trusting environment where people feel like they can open their hearts and have a raw conversation. Once employees feel safe enough to share, then we can begin to grow together," says Dorothea.
Metrics should dig deeper and measure the experience
Now that today's workplaces are energized by these efforts, I&D will continue to evolve. As a result, organizations must also modify and reprioritize their strategies. "We always ask ourselves what we need to adapt and change. In DEI, it isn't about one initiative or event. Some things don't work, so you pivot and move on," says Dessi. It will not be enough to measure performance in terms of surface-level metrics such as the number of initiatives or the percentage of diverse employees.
TM Forum's Diversity and Inclusion Council successfully completed an Alpha trial of a new Inclusion and Diversity Score (IDS)—a single, universal index believed to be the first in the world to measure both diversity and cultural inclusiveness, providing a benchmark for real change.
"IDS will enable organizations to assess the maturity of their inclusion and diversity across intersectional characteristics, compare their maturity score with others in the industry, and set baselines to monitor growth and evaluate the effectiveness of their current diversity and inclusion programs and initiatives," says Vicky. "The Council also intends to offer a set of crowd-sourced interventions to help organizations strengthen existing programs and commitments to better serve their employees and society," he explains. A select number of organizations have piloted the IDS based on the best practice of companies with the top diversity and inclusion scores with beta trials and results due autumn 2022.
Data can also make all the difference in gaining leadership support. "The C-suite that I&D executives are trying to convince are data-driven, and the metrics help support the value drivers they are implementing," notes Donald. In addition to key metrics, communicating the small wins and industry best practices will be critical to secure buy-in for organization-wide I&D programs.
Empathy and kindness win every time
The pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, personally and professionally. But it has also revealed how empathy and kindness at every level can help us rebuild our home lives and come together at the workplace. Organizations are becoming more aware that diversity without inclusion will be detrimental to their growth. While the conversation is important and supports the exchange of ideas and best practices—real change requires action. "Living by our values and using them as inspiration for I&D programs is exponentially better than just talking about it. We just have to show people that we are committed," says Aashu. As workplace dynamics continue to change, so will I&D—and that will be the real test of success for organizations.