Are D&I policies effective? Here’s what employees think…

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) do matter, and all organisations make it a point to include D&I policies in the workplace. But are they as effective as they appear on paper?

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The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) conducted a survey on diversity and inclusion to find out how D&I programmes are faring and what employees want from them. They surveyed around 16,000 employees across 14 countries to understand the obstacles they face, the type of diversity interventions they have at the workplace and which ones they find most effective for women, ethnic and racial minorities and the LGBTQI community. The results showed that corporate diversity, especially at the top tiers, is dominated by men.

The members of the majority group continue to underestimate the obstacles and day-to-day challenges faced by diverse groups. Half of the diverse workforce stated that they continue to see bias on a daily basis. They believed that their companies do not have effective mechanisms in place to ensure that major decisions concerning promotions or assignments are made without bias.

For racial and ethnic minority employees, the biggest obstacle to a diverse workforce is in career advancement.

What do employees have to say?

When asked, the employees unanimously voted in favour of re-designing the diversity and inclusion policies and going back to the basics, to make them effective. Training and sensitising workshops, consistency in following anti-discriminatory policies and removing bias from major decisions should be the priority for all organisations.

If the majority of the workforce undervalues a particular policy it does not mean that the policy is ineffective. The research identified some policies which worked, for each diverse group. These were policies that they thought were effective and necessary but were undervalued by the majority of the employees. Most corporate leaders fall in the majority category and this can mean that corporations are prioritising the wrong initiatives and overlooking the important ones.

For women employees, the desirable interventions include those that ensure a viable path forward giving them the tools to balance both career and family responsibilities. They want to see more visible role models in the leadership team and practical tools, such as parental leaves, healthcare coverage and childcare assistance, such as on-site crèche facilities. The flexibility factor was rated highly by both men and women. However, despite its importance, flexibility at work is available at only a third of the workplaces surveyed.

For racial and ethnic minority employees, the biggest obstacle to a diverse workforce is in career advancement. For these employees, policies aimed at eliminating bias from day-to-day processes, such as staffing and deciding attendance in meetings are highly valued. This group may lack informal networks among the top tiers of their companies, and hence, show great interest in formal sponsorships and individual roadmaps for advancement.

For women employees, the desirable interventions include those that ensure a viable path forward giving them the tools to balance both career and family responsibilities.

As for the LGBTQI employees, almost half of them confess to still being closeted at work and unable to express themselves. Such situations require extra efforts, on a day-to-day basis, to be tackled properly. The queer community places greater value on structural changes made by the organisation, to include more genders rather than just male and female. The changes can include creating gender- neutral bathrooms or non-binary gender choices in HR data.

So what do organisations need to do?

At the outset, it is important to set the tone at the top and design concrete policies for change. The policies will have to be built in consultation with the diverse employees. Seventy-five per cent of the employees surveyed reported that while the diversity programmes are in place, they are ineffective.

The interventions designed need to be tailored to each company. Moreover, it is not just the employee’s background that needs to be considered but the company’s culture as well. Both the top-down and bottom-up approaches, in tandem, can lead to a better outcome. Involving affected employees in the designing and assessment of the programme can help sustain the programme and ensure it stays relevant.

As for the LGBTQI employees, almost half of them confess to still being closeted at work and unable to express themselves.

And last but not the least, research and follow up are crucial. Design and creation are not enough to bring change. The change has to be sustained. The best D&I policy will not stay relevant for long unless regular and thorough follow up on the effectiveness of the policy is not done. Periodic surveys can be useful for this purpose and employee feedback should be valued and listened to. That will ensure that the policies are kept updated in accordance with employee requirements and company values. Moreover, along with proper research, the correct research methodology is equally important. Using different methodologies can result in varying results. Therefore, it is crucial to use the method that gives the right output.

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