Recently, Sue Johnson, Managing Partner for Inclusion & Diversity Consulting at Odgers Berndston, and OrgShakers’ Partner Therese Procter met to discuss the vital role diversity and inclusion (D&I) plays in helping UK workers navigate through challenging times.
“I think there’s a growing unrest at work that’s just bubbling under the surface,” Therese began, going on to highlight how workers are facing both a cost-of-living crisis and the need to adapt to changing ways of working after the pandemic. And while this has brought financial and mental wellness to the top of the overall leadership agenda, responsibility for addressing these complex needs is typically falling to the individual in an organisation that leads D&I strategies.
This continues a longstanding trend in D&I – scope creep – with a growing number of People issues being added to the discipline’s remit in many organisations, including workplace culture, human rights, supply chain governance, and community engagement.
On the one hand this is a positive development, as organisations become increasingly responsive to their environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments. The challenge, however, is that the growing demands on D&I specialists are not being matched with the required resources.
“What you’re seeing is the job being expanded…the agenda is getting broader and broader,” Sue points out. However, the person who is responsible for responding to these D&I issues “are mostly reporting at a lower level… and to really make a change you have got to be able to have a seat at the executive table”.
Also critical is that today’s D&I specialists have the right blend of D&I expertise and wider organisational experience i.e.: they understand how the business ‘ticks’. Sue reflected that all too often in the past the people appointed to D&I roles had either “limited subject matter expertise but huge business experience … or came from HR with the subject matter expertise but lacked the wider business expertise required”.
Therese added that this is why “we are at a point in time where businesses need to reflect on current issues – and reset”. A D&I ‘reset’ that requires the appointment of individuals who, as well as having subject matter expertise and organisational know how, can also make things happen at pace and scale.
“You have to have such high emotional intelligence,” Sue agreed. “You need to be a good influencer, you need to be able to write strategy, and you need to be skilled in change management.”
“And the insights, the awareness, the training, the support, the helplines – the whole infrastructure has to be taken seriously,” Therese added. “That starts with the Board. If it’s not taken seriously and led from the top – and by the top – it will never get traction in the organisation.”
If the scope of the job is broadening, Sue and Therese concluded, then its importance increases by tenfold. And this means having an in-depth and contemporary understanding of all the corners of D&I, knowing how to respond and support employees accordingly – and then being able to win the support of senior leaders and stakeholders.
And aside from an employer’s moral obligation, there is clear financial gain from appointing a D&I specialist with this rare blend of skills. A workplace that is diverse and inclusive garners a higher revenue growth, has a greater readiness to innovate, and gains access to a wider talent pool. Research conducted by Great Place to Work also found that those who believed they would be treated fairly and included were 5.4 times more likely to want to remain at their company.
Adapting to this new normal when it comes to post-pandemic work has seen many new opportunities and challenges emerge in the working world, which is why it is more important than ever to be applying a central focus to your approach to D&I.
Copyright OrgShakers: The global HR consultancy for workplace transformation founded by David Fairhurst in 2020