Diversity Management Isn’t working

Diversity Management isn’t working. As businesses jostle for position in the global marketplace, there is a widening interest in diversity along with a growing fatigue, as there is still a significant misunderstanding of what diversity management actually is; how it is evolving as a business concept, how it should be positioned and how it should be implemented within an organisation.

The misinterpretation of what diversity management really is has limited its ability to have a real impact, as many UK based organisations focus on appointing stand-alone diversity managers with little resources, not a lot of kudos and even less senior level accountability attached to the role. With limited options so many diversity managers create isolated initiatives at best, rooted within HR with a focus on legal compliance without any real links to other functions and little hope of moving the business along to gain competitive advantage through diversity. Managers frequently aim initiatives at addressing underrepresentation or implementing training programmes which only create the perception of inclusion.

I spend a great deal of time visiting businesses and 8 times of 10 a business will say to me, “We don’t have a problem with diversity, take a look around and you will see we are diverse, naturally diverse, we don’t have to do anything we have talent from all backgrounds and groups, we’ve cracked the diversity thing”. To some degree that’s like saying we’ve solved our future talent pipeline strategy and we don’t need to work at it any more. When a business acquires any resource, the resource should be managed, directed and monitored to ensure desired outcomes are being achieved. Diversity can increase workforce capability, therefore it is a resource which needs to be managed for benefits to be realised.

So, to get the conversation going I sometimes ask, “What are you doing to tap into that diversity, are you doing anything with it, are you making the most of it, or are you just assuming because it’s there, that’s enough and it will have a positive impact”? Depending on the audience the question can be rephrased, “Can you demonstrate what you are doing to leverage that diversity to achieve your organisational goals, to set you apart from your competitors, to connect you with your clients/customers and give your business an edge? So what is the definition of a truly successful diverse business? It’s not solely related to headcount; it’s moved on from being about addressing underrepresentation and supporting a few community groups, it’s not even about getting more women into the boardroom. These are all part of it, elements of your diversity strategy, but they are not the endgame, they are a means to an end.This is where most organisations fall short, they end on the means.

Companies must consider the changing landscape. The organisation as a bureaucratic administrative machine is dying its death; as the way economies are organised, how they function and the role of organisations within them is all being reinvented. The way we organise our lives from the way we choose to work, how we choose to consume and how we do business, it’s all changing. “Diversity management embodies the changing landscape, it moves us on from homogeneous workforces and command and control management styles, it embraces the digital age and the widening of access through technology, and it prepares us for the shifting power base and the globalisation of markets, as it drives the formation of new business models which reduce economic inequality to create more sustainable economies. Diversity management is about building organisations which harness the power of difference to be different in their essence and being. It’s about thinking and behaving differently then influencing others to do so. The goal of corporate diversity strategies should be to build values driven, people centred organisations which have an authentic purpose and are relevant in today’s socio-economic context.

To be relevant in today’s world a business must demonstrate “integrity” and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is a cornerstone of establishing “integrity in business” as this starts with how an organisation treats its people; through its policies and practices, its values, its culture and how it functions. This integrity must then permeate every element of its business model and manifests itself in how it interacts and communicates with the world. Thus, the diversity director must be a comprehensive business strategist, the concept which started with addressing discrimination and underrepresentation then triggered new perspective on workforce capability, has evolved even further as it adds value across the entire the business, thus enter the EDI strategist, to get a better sense of what it says it does on the diversity tin. The terms equality, diversity and inclusion are often used interchangeably, but a much clearer articulation is required, if we’re going to get diversity management working. What do these three things mean in relation to each other, how do they work together to add value to a business?

The EDI proposition: Equality – Establishing fair treatment for all, managing your reputation and the risks of non-compliancy. Diversity – Managing and leveraging the power of difference to build the best workforces and achieve organisational goals. Inclusion – Creation of a workplace culture and ways of working, where everyone has access where organisations can get the best from, and give the best to their people. Diversity directors have a critical role to play and the future of diversity will depend on their ability to evolve, reposition and establish this as management practice, to clearly articulate what they do and how they add value to organisations and business strategy, then to demonstrate how they connect with and provide business focused solutions for some of the biggest challenges of our rapidly changing world.

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