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Three cases – Business, People and Culture – of DEI

Monday September 6, 2021, By Kannan Hariharan

Reports suggest that COVID-19 has impacted more women in the form of job losses, reversing the gains made over some time. The pandemic has been a derailer for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals. DEI is not a standalone endeavor and it is deeply tied to the organization’s success and growth. However, while the job losses among one population have reversed the small proportion of growth made over time, the global pandemic has also offered some solutions that can give an impetus to DEI initiatives.

DEI is not just the responsibility of the human resource (HR) personnel or the CEO– it is everyone’s responsibility. Pandemic is an unusual situation impacting everyone. Many leaders now know that when implemented appropriately, the work-from-home model can support and promote DEI. Several new lessons have emerged, and inclusion is a great leveler. There is a lot of information about best practices and deliberate inclusive actions from many organizations. There is heightened awareness about DEI, and organizations should build on this. Of course, some have faced challenges in the virtual world due to the pandemic.

Why you must bat for DEI

Organizations should move from DEI being an event to make it a more sustainable change initiative— a journey with clear milestones and celebrate every success. Leaders should focus on building an organizational culture of inclusion. DEI initiatives are less about what you do and more about what the organization becomes. That is possible only if we can empower individuals, and this starts with self-awareness or reflection. It has to resonate with an individual’s values. If the organization can get their business case, talent case, and culture case right coupled with leadership commitment and discipline, they can sustain the momentum. The business must address the low-hanging fruit and celebrate small wins.

Lead by example

Managers can convert the vision to small action steps and track progress, apart from sharing the quick wins and talking about allies and role models within the organization. Managers and leaders must walk the talk at all times. They can ensure that every team is diverse and leverages creativity, apart from tracking innovation. Leaders should also ensure that managers become self-aware, and help them understand the barriers like unconscious bias and stereotypes. They must Empower them to bridge the knowing-doing gap. Linking the performance scorecard for each manager and team to DEI key performance indicators (KPI) and spending time to discuss what is working well and what is not are essential. Coaching and mentoring allies, diversity and inclusion council members, and people managers will be an enabler. Leaders should also engage themselves in advocacy actions to build a brand image for a positive spiral for talent attraction and retention.

Remove prejudice

HR practitioners themselves should build awareness and intelligence about DEI, understand the biases and barriers. They need to work more closely with the business leaders to understand the business case and weave this imperative into the talent case and culture case. There is a definite need to link KPIs around DEI, look at all the data points on performance, 360-degree feedback, and organization effectiveness score. HR should connect the dots around these. The focus must be on engaging stakeholders by getting their buy-in thru establishing a leadership commitment.  Follow-up initiatives include allocation of resources and updating HR processes to enable the efforts towards DEI. HR should move beyond just looking at this as an event but more about building the future, investing in talent and culture for the organization. They should facilitate building capability around DEI within the organization.

Here is a five-point checklist for managers and leaders to sustain the DEI momentum:

  • Create awareness and learning around DEI for self and other people managers
  • Focus on potential and opportunity that support the empowerment
  • Build leadership commitment and actions
  • Articulate a clear strategy and roadmap with measurable milestones and a review process
  • Celebrate success, share stories about role models and success

Author Profile

Kannan Hariharan
Kannan Hariharan
Kannan Hariharan is Chief Strategist – Culture & Belongingness, Avtar Group is passionate about Organizational Development, Values and Culture, Performance Management and Inclusion. A recipient of the PepsiCo Harvey C Russell - Diversity and Inclusion Award, Kannan has done some incredible work around Change Management in organizations.
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