Employers confronting diversity and inclusion issues may have their priorities backwards, according to speakers at an online panel hosted Nov. 19 by industry veteran Josh Bersin.
HR practitioners who are new to D&I may believe their goal should be to "get the metrics up first," Bersin said, but metrics alone will not drive the type of progress employers seek.
"Inclusion is the goal, diversity is the outcome," he added. "The thing that drives engagement, retention and performance ... is a feeling of belonging."
Employers have to allow and enable diversity, Bersin said. But in order to do so, they may also need to create spaces for expression of that diversity, said Ray Narine, head of talent development and deputy chief diversity officer at Consumer Reports.
"I remember when I started back in 2007 ... the idea was to hire diverse talent and fit them into these neat boxes that we have internally," Narine said. "That movement has really shifted into where we are today, where we're creating spaces now for differences that people bring with them."
To build these spaces, employers can start by focusing on what D&I means for them, she added. D&I professionals may want to focus on the specific D&I issues they are solving for and ensure workers are aware of them and how they relate to organizational values. "And if you don't know that, invest the time to get to know that," Narine said.
The goal is to create spaces in which employees can have conversations about D&I, whether that means talking about certain terms or working through workers' confusion about why the topic needs to be addressed, Narine said. Employers can augment those conversations with education about what inclusivity means, and how employees can "show up" to achieve it.
In the past year, companies have cited employee resource groups as one way to build such spaces. This approach is utilized at Herc Rentals, said Mark Arell, vice president of talent and organization development at the equipment rental firm. Herc created resource groups for military veterans and for women — two groups that have been a particular focus of its hiring and retention efforts.
Herc has emphasized the importance of sharing a common purpose when building inclusion. "We do sort of assimilate and engage new team members around that purpose," Arell said. "That provides a foundation for that sense of inclusion and belonging around that shared purpose."
D&I training 'has to be almost like therapy'
A variety of organizations have seen increased interest in D&I training in recent months, HR Dive reported in September. However, organizations risk misapplying the information and concepts contained in training modules, potentially wasting their investments, according to Arell.
"We have to be careful of what we expect to get out of training and the impact it will have," he said. "A lot of the diversity and inclusion related training that is happening at organizations today has a bit of a branding problem."
Training can introduce very complex topics and even "a whole new set of vocabulary" on which employers may expect all of their people managers to become experts, but this can create confusion, Arell said. Instead, leadership and management development can take a more targeted approach, prioritizing aspects of inclusivity that directly relate to being a better leader. "We try to focus on very practical things that our leaders can do to engage and build their teams differently [and] that help them create diversity," he added.
Bersin noted a need for simplification in D&I training, and he used the analogy of his experience taking safety training during his time working for an oil company. "I didn't get training on the chemical nature of fires in refineries," he said. "They didn't teach me about the history of fire and why things catch on fire … they said don't light a match in the refinery or you will be fired. It's almost that simple."
Employers, Bersin continued, have to get back to the basics of teaching people how to manage, lead, operate and hire in an inclusive way without necessarily getting into all of the granular details. "You can learn that too, if you want, but I think that's one of the reasons a lot of studies are finding that D&I training is not moving the needle," he said.
Employers may be "overindexing" when it comes to implementing concepts such as unconscious bias without accounting for the human aspect of D&I, Narine said. Employees may feel more inclined to change their behaviors if they understand that inclusivity has a positive effect on the workplace, on business results and on themselves.
Effective training also relates back to the specific D&I goals the employer has for its workplace, she noted; "You just can't expect an off-the-shelf unconscious bias training to work for your company again."
Consumer Reports focuses on education as well as introspection, she added, returning to the concept of creating space for employees. Employers may need to be careful that such spaces are not focused on making employees feel ashamed because they do not know certain terminology or how to be an ally. "We need to remove all of that from our training," Narine said. "Training has to be almost like therapy or counseling, where you are addressing real human issues and know that this is a journey."
'It's not what you say, it's what you do'
When it comes to both internal and external efforts, companies may make the mistake of showcasing their metrics and their D&I-related hires without pushing further, Bersin said. Senior leaders, he noted, are learning that D&I isn't a topic that they want to weigh into unless the company is actually doing the necessary work to improve.
"For a senior leader, you have to examine yourself and your own beliefs, and do you honestly believe in the power of every individual regardless of their nature, background, age, gender, etc.," Bersin said. "It's not what you say, it's what you do, and CEOs have to realize that."
Statements are not the only way to project the stances employers take. Herc, for example, has focused mostly on listening to employees rather than taking a more activist approach in recent months, Arell said; "That's when you move beyond window dressing, when you say we're actually willing to engage in a conversation with you about this and listen, and we're very open, without judgment."
Similarly, following the Breonna Taylor grand jury decision in September, Narine said Consumer Reports facilitated a company-wide conversation about how workers were feeling. "Listening is a power skill, and it is not just to hear people but for people to feel heard," she added.
Such examples may reflect the important role employers play in broader social discussions. Bersin noted that the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer showed people trust businesses more than governments in some areas. HR personnel, he said, are "sort of responsible for the most trusted institutions in people's lives at the moment … that's been a really interesting redefinition of what businesses are about right now in this particular period of time."