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Jenni Hibbert, global managing partner and head of Heidrick & Struggles’ Search Go-To-Market, shares with Human Resources Online how companies can develop a framework to accelerate the impact of diversity and inclusion, build visible representation, and create an inclusive culture where employees from different backgrounds stay, earn promotions and grow with organisations.

Dismantle any systemic barriers in play
Despite good intentions that may stretch back decades, don’t assume your organisation is immune to systemic issues. Systematic reinforcement occurs at every level, and involves aligning institutional practices, performance drivers, and capabilities to remove any inadvertent systemic preferences.

One of the most straightforward ways to safeguard against systemic barriers is to ensure hiring panels are diverse. When HR representatives, departmental leadership, and line managers come from a variety of backgrounds, structural issues that impact some communities more than others are more likely to be identified and dismantled. 

If you are leveraging an external recruitment firm, there is another opportunity to add a different perspective by choosing one that understands diversity and is inclusive of a larger community.

Is the “pipeline” problem a myth?
A go-to excuse for companies in the past was that the pipeline simply did not have enough diverse candidates. In 2021, it is increasingly difficult to make this case. Individuals from most racial and ethnic backgrounds are more likely to attend college than in 2000, creating an abundance of graduates across a variety of disciplines, while many larger firms are abandoning the requirement to have a college degree in order to promote talent from different backgrounds. 

For organisations that still have difficulty filling their pipelines, seeking candidates from less traditional sources, or finding high performers who can step up, are options. 

Abandon ‘cultural fit’ as a criteria 
Companies have attracted criticism for using ‘culture fit’ as a key hiring criteria. Cultural fit refers to an individual's attitudes, values and beliefs aligning the core values and culture of the company. Placing such a vague and often undefined criteria as a key factor in the hiring process can allow unconscious bias to enter the process.

Furthermore, encouraging employees to fit into a certain culture can quash dissenting voices, which can be valuable both to the business’s bottom line and their diversity efforts. Culture fit can unwittingly become a petri dish for groupthink. The problem with unconscious bias is that it is unconscious – we are unaware of them. That’s why inclusive organisations hold regular training on the issue.

Purposefully inclusive leadership
To create a diverse and inclusive workforce, leaders must authentically communicate, lead, and role model a compelling purpose for the shift. A leader-led process will engage the entire organisation and build momentum, which leads to a higher probability of a sense of belonging in teams. Leaders must also take responsibility for seeding talent along the pipeline at all levels, as well as succession planning.

Leaders must make a personal and ongoing mindset shift, committing to addressing their blind spots, and changing their personal behaviour to effectively lead diverse talent. Inclusive leaders foster collaboration, model adaptability, and lead through influence rather than authority. 

Numerous studies have noted that more diverse companies record higher revenue growth, so D&I is a financial imperative – but in 2021 and beyond it is far more important than that. One of any organisation’s most valuable assets is its reputation. Falling behind the curve in terms of diversity and inclusion is both a financial and a reputational risk, impacting all stakeholders at your business.