Diversity Day 2020: Maintaining momentum towards greater inclusion

28 May 2020

Diversity Day 2020: Maintaining momentum towards greater inclusion

Diversity and inclusion initiatives are not new. Groups like the European Network on Independent Living and the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany have long campaigned against discrimination, including in the workplace. Gender diversity in the boardroom became a legal requirement with Germany’s 2016 mandate that women occupy at least 30% of public company board seats. And voluminous academic research demonstrates that businesses with diverse leadership teams are more successful.

It’s 2020, we get it. After years of diversity activism, diversity-related corporate governance regulations, and research reports backed up by hard data, the message has broken through: greater diversity is both a virtuous pursuit and good for the bottom line.

It’s 2020, we get it. Greater diversity is both a virtuous pursuit and good for the bottom line.

But the challenge for business leaders is two-fold. First, how to get started, particularly when every company culture is different. And second, how to maintain momentum when progress can feel slow to materialize.

Why is championing diversity and inclusion so hard?

Unconscious bias pervades language and creates a systemic barrier to entry, promotion and continuation of women and minorities in the workplace. For example, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article, we tend to use language to describe male and female leaders in ways that support traditionally held stereotypes and beliefs.

People generally use fewer positive, and far more negative, words to describe female leaders. The top positive female descriptors were ‘compassionate’ and ‘enthusiastic’, while the top male descriptors were ‘analytical’ and ‘competent’. The male words align more closely with descriptions of ideal candidates in many senior executive roles.

Societal attitudes and workplace cultures are deeply ingrained. Changing how we think and interact with each other at work is a slow and difficult process. It is easier to agree intellectually with the idea of equal opportunity than to shift everyday habits. Acknowledging unconscious bias helps but doesn’t lead automatically to a solution.

Changing how we think and interact with each other at work is a slow and difficult process.

Biased language can be found in everything from job postings, to candidate screening processes and performance reviews, perpetuating the status quo inside industries, companies, functions and roles. To counter unconscious bias in all facets of the workplace, companies need to actively review the imagery and language of recruitment ads and internal review and promotions processes.

Progressing from ‘diversity’ to ‘inclusion’?

An inclusion agenda goes way beyond just gender diversity in leadership roles. But focusing on inclusion more broadly isn’t about sidelining gender-based leadership targets. A workplace culture change that helps everyone by definition also helps women.

One example of a more inclusive workplace policy is equal parental leave. Such a policy gives all employees, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or how they become a parent, the same amount of parental leave. This creates a level playing field for parents and goes to the heart of changing minds by changing behavior.

A workplace culture change that helps everyone by definition also helps women.

In order to embed greater inclusion in all that we do, Odgers Berndtson launched a global initiative called ‘Unlimited’. This initiative reflects a methodology, belief and commitment to prioritizing inclusion and diversity.

That commitment begins at home. Katja Hanns-Terrill, one of the Managing Partners of Odgers Berndtson Germany, notes, “We are proud of our gender diversity metrics. Two-thirds of our partners and 80% of our practice heads are women. We also filled 26% of our searches with a female executive in 2019.”

Her co-Managing Partner Daniel Nerlich adds, “Our team in Germany includes people with backgrounds from over 18 different countries. That diversity brings with it a great range of perspectives, insight and experience. In addition, international candidates are included in over 50% of our search mandates.”

The ultimate goal of Unlimited is to help clients make more informed choices to enable a more diverse workplace culture. Odgers Berndtson’s aim is to help clients remove ingrained practices and thinking from role descriptions in order to deliver a more diverse pool of talented candidates.

Removing ingrained practices and thinking from role descriptions delivers a more diverse pool of talented candidates.

For example, often the client asks for someone who has 15 years of sector-specific experience. But with a little creative, lateral thinking, candidates from other sectors could deliver equally relevant, broader experience and contribute a different perspective.

So how can we create a more inclusive workplace?

Every day, hundreds of decisions are made that reinforce or change the working culture. We need to make sure the balance of those decisions and actions move us towards a more inclusive workplace. The more inclusivity is ingrained in working practices, the faster change will happen.

The more inclusivity is ingrained in working practices, the faster change will happen.

First, when proposing a diversity initiative, explain its commercial relevance. Sell the idea as a business strategy by identifying a clear bottom line benefit to the company. And embed inclusion in all policy initiatives, communication and HR processes. For example, introduce a multi-faith approach to the celebration of religious festivals and create transparent processes for work allocation.

Second, establish properly resourced employee groups to drive change from within. Third, transparency is crucial. Set targets and track and publish your progress towards greater diversity and a more inclusive culture using quantitative and qualitative data. Siemens and adidas, for example, have many of the diversity metrics published on their website, i.e., available for employees and the general public. And finally, invest in visible markers of inclusion such as gender-neutral toilets and subtitles on internal videos for the hearing impaired.

Along with highlighting the commercial relevance of diversity initiatives, establishing properly resourced employee groups, transparently tracking diversity targets, and investing in visible markers of inclusion, initiatives like Unlimited are making inclusion a routine consideration, not an afterthought. All of these efforts will help maintain momentum towards greater inclusion.

If you’d like to discuss diversity & inclusion topics and your organisation’s leadership requirements with us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.