EngagementDiversity & InclusionThe diversity and inclusion challenges facing HR teams

The diversity and inclusion challenges facing HR teams

Most companies are nervous about diversity & inclusion (D&I) issues.  Heightened public and media scrutiny on the behaviour of companies (and their employees) have contributed to this, as have increased requirements on organisations to be transparent on issues such as the gender pay gap. 

But dealing with diversity is much more than merely reputation management, or even simply doing the right thing, as important as both are. Businesses that have created a diverse and inclusive culture find that they have also created a more profitable and productive culture. A recent McKinsey report1 revealed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. For ethnic and cultural diversity, the equivalent gap was 33%.

Making D&I a priority

Not all businesses are realising this potential, however. Learnlight recently conducted research2 amongst UK-based employees on their experiences of D&I in the workplace. The results suggest that many businesses have significant work to do to tackle D&I effectively.

More than one in five UK employees (22%) say they aren’t certain their workplace is truly diverse and one in four (25%) aren’t certain that their workplace is inclusive. The diversity issue is more pronounced at senior management level, with four in ten (40%) respondents not convinced their workplace is diverse at this level.

The lack of diversity and inclusion in organisations has also had a personal impact on many employees. Nearly one in four (23%) say they have experienced an incident of discrimination in the past 12 months; 12% have been victims of discrimination themselves and 14% have experienced it happening to someone they know at work.

Of course, the purpose of a D&I policy is to create organisations in which incidents of this nature no longer occur. But the findings suggest that many organisations either still don’t have such a policy, or, if they do, have a problem communicating it to staff. Only half of UK employees (51%) are sure that their employer has a policy to promote diversity & inclusion (“D&I”) in the workplace.

Even where D&I policies do exist they are not strictly observed. Our research revealed less than half (49%) of employees felt that their D&I policy was strictly adhered to. One in three employees (30%) said their organisation’s policy was ‘usually’ adhered to but that sometimes senior managers get around it and HR doesn’t prevent this from happening. Another 9% thought their company’s policy was just a box-ticking exercise.

Clearly creating a D&I policy is just one element of creating a truly diverse and inclusive organisation. A truly diverse and inclusive business requires HR teams to have a broad understanding of many factors including how to develop a D&I strategy, negotiate different legal frameworks, create an inclusive culture, overcome unconscious bias, develop a business case and measure progress effectively.

Challenges ahead

This is a complex task and until relatively recently, businesses didn’t generally have to pro-actively create policies and form a culture that embraced D&I. Little wonder, then, that many HR professionals and their organisations are not getting everything right just yet.

While HR teams, and particularly learning and development specialists, routinely manage training needs for others in their organisation, often their own training requirements can be overlooked. As a soft skills training provider to multinationals around the world, we regularly hear from many HR teams who say they are struggling to overcome these D&I challenges in practice.

This is why we have launched a course to provide HR teams with the necessary skills to deliver effective D&I policies, which links to our existing solution for employees in all functions and levels of seniority. Employees can develop their skills to avoid unconscious bias and champion inclusivity, just as they can learn to speak business-level French, understand the cultural sensitivities of working with the Chinese or deliver presentations more effectively.

The multinational HR teams we work with have shown us that overall there is a positive direction of travel in efforts to create diverse and inclusive organisations. But it won’t happen overnight, and HR professionals face many practical challenges in the process. Good training and coaching can go a long way to help HR teams understand how to tackle these challenges and to help all employees throughout organisations improve their understanding of D&I issues and adapt their behaviour accordingly.

By Benjamin Joseph, CEO of LearnLight 

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