8 Things HR Leaders Must Do To Foster Diversity and Inclusion

September 9 | Presented by Achievers

Individuals and organizations have known for decades that biases are inherent to traditional business systems.

We know that people who belong to minority groups are less likely to get hired.

We know that, if they do manage to scale the persistent hurdle of hiring, they will face challenges moving into positions of leadership.

So, why is it that, if we’ve been armed with that knowledge for so long, we’re still talking about it?

Why has it taken yet another rash of violence to shine new light on old problems? And why, above all else, have the people who believe themselves to care about the problem, been unsuccessful in solving it?

To explore these questions, Elevate partnered with Achievers to learn from the award-winning writer, researcher, lecturer, speaker, and former Bay Street employment and human rights lawyer, Dr. Hadiya Roderique.

Together with HR leaders from top companies, the group delved into the most pervasive barriers to equality at each stage of the employee lifecycle to discover how CHROs can work to break them down.

1. Move beyond statements of support

If 2020 has made anything clear, it’s that words are no longer going to cut it; a revelation that flooded social media streams in response to the countless unsubstantiated messages of support issued after George Flloyd’s murder in May.

“So many times I hear people say ‘we’re going to do better on D&I’ or ‘we know we have a problem and we’re going to fix it’,” says Dr. Roderique. “Well, what is your problem? Tell me in plain language. It’s a matter of going beyond lip service.”

When you find something that works well to address the problem, that’s the time to really speak up. And while some companies worry that sharing such ‘trade secrets’ could offer the competition a leg up, Dr. Roderique says that’s simply not a valid concern when it comes to issues of equality.

You can differentiate yourself in other ways, but you should want every company to treat everybody with respect and dignity. You shouldn’t just want yours to be inclusive.”

2. Identify your barriers

Dr. Roderique suggests that one of the first steps in building out your diversity and inclusion strategy is to become familiar with exactly why your organization wasn’t doing anything to remedy systemic racism before the dust got kicked up again in the summer of 2020.

Because, she points out, the need to address anti-Black racism is not new — it is a well researched, documented, and publicized issue.

“One thing I like to ask people is, ‘if you could wake up tomorrow and have $75k more in your bank account but you’d be Black, would you take the money?’ People don’t say yes. They know. They don’t want to be Black. They know it’s harder.”

Dr. Hadiya Roderique

So, if understanding the problem isn’t the issue, what is? It’s vital to figure that out because, as Dr. Roderique puts it, you’re going to have to understand what barriers were in place before to know how you’re going to get past them now. 

3. Know your numbers

Dr. Roderique emphasizes that companies need to have a firm handle on their numbers because, without them, there is no chance of measuring success. She recommends knowing exactly:

  1. Where you’re starting from
  2. What your target is
  3. How you will track movement towards that target

That gap analysis, backed with an actionable plan to get those tangible numbers, is absolutely essential.

Further, Dr. Roderique reminds organizations to focus not on the numbers that may be top of mind, or offer flashy benchmarks, but on the areas where they have the most work to do.

“Trying to get from 39% women to 40% women is not going to have the same impact as going 1% Black to 5% Black,” she emphasizes, “so really try to find the places where you can have the biggest impact.”

One participant shared first-hand experience of how impactful the role of numbers can be in mobilizing diversity and inclusion strategies.

“As soon as we put targets in place we started to see progress. As soon as we put accountability on our leaders to the point where their bonuses are directly linked to their diversity metrics…all of a sudden people were able to think more creatively. ”

Zoya Zayler, Diversity Lead, Accenture

4. Present it as a talent issue

The unfortunate reality is that all companies in a capitalist society are going to have one thing top of mind at all times: the bottom line. So, if you find yourself in a position where there are leaders on the team who remain unconvinced of the urgency, importance, and relevancy of inequality, it can help to position it as a talent issue, rather than a business case.

Check out Dr. Roderique’s explanation of exactly how cut and dry this is.

5. Hire a diverse workforce (but don’t stop there)

Often, when companies look at diversity and inclusion, they tend to focus on hiring. In the following section, we’ll look at why that’s only the start of what it means to foster inclusion. But hiring does remain a vital part of the lifecycle.

Abandon the pipeline myth

HR leaders everywhere will recognize the sentiment, “we’d love to hire a [x] but there just aren’t any in the pipeline”.

Dr. Roderique is adamant that this is simply not a valid excuse for failing to bring on members of marginalized groups.

“So, what are you doing to improve the pipeline?” she challenges. “How many scholarships have you created? How many internships are set aside for [x]? You have to be an active part of that pipeline solution.”

But also…the people you’re looking for are there. It may just take some creativity to break down the biases that prevent them from being seen.

A lot of hiring managers tend to look for what they know, but there are people out there across all of those diversity groups. We need to see more intentionality when looking for talent from different groups.”

Ronald Peters, Human Resources Consultant, City of Toronto

Dr. Roderique shares an incredibly illustrative example in an orchestra that changed one small element of their audition process and saw an entire overhaul of their demographic breakdown.

Rethink the interview process

So, if the pipeline is full of people from underrepresented groups, that means hiring them isn’t an issue of availability. It’s an issue of fair access, rooted in many of our favourite interview, networking and interpersonal ‘best practices’.

“[In interviews] I was asked what hockey team I cheered for. I was asked about my favourite scotch…none of that had any relevance to the job. What it did do was show my ability to speak White upper-middle-class language.”

Dr. Haridya Roderique

By continuing to value interview processes that are mysterious (and often implicity tied to personal background and socioeconomic status) organizations are, however unintentionally, alienating top-tier candidates.

Take a look at how Dr. Roderique breaks it down.

In order to actually access the much-talked-about pipeline, interviews need to:

  1. Be fair. Consider using standardized questions to ensure complete fairness.
  2. Be transparent. Tell applicants what to expect ahead of time, and don’t attempt to surprise them. It only serves to discriminate.
  3. Measure what hiring managers actually need for the roll. Project tasks and group work are great ways to test this.

6. Focus on evaluation

Dr. Roderique says that, while hiring is important, most companies need to focus more on cultivating an inclusive environment for employees after they step in the door. Without that, real change is never going to happen.

“A lot of damage is done when you hire people into a place that’s not ready to support them”

Dr. Hadiya Roderique

As HR leaders know, a hugely influential part of how people move through an organizations is evaluations, which means it’s also an area that deserves very deliberate attention in a diversity and inclusion strategy.

Dr. Roderique encourages CHROs to focus on the following questions:

  1. Do your processes ensure that people are being judged on performance and not potential?
  2. Are their successes being attributed to skill and not luck?
  3. Are the mistakes of ‘prove it again groups’ (typically non-white-males) given more weight?
  4. Are you aware of implicit biases in performance reviews? Here’s an example:

7. Look at work assignment

Hand in hand with evaluations, in Dr. Roderique’s eyes, is work assignment. To ensure that all employees are being given fair access to leadership opportunities, examine who you’re giving work to and why. Here are a few questions to get started:

  1. How is work being assigned?
  2. Who seems to be getting the glamour or high-visibility work?
  3. Who is getting the office work?
  4. Why is it going to them? Is it because they look like you? Does that make you like, trust, or connect with them more?
  5. How can we make that process more objective and egalitarian?

8. Get rid of nay-sayers

Every team is going to have a handful of people who do not champion diversity and inclusion, and it’s up to leaders to make it clear that there’s simply no room for that kind of attitude on their team.

“Organizations are really good at checking the box to say ‘I’ve got these things’. But are they actually making a meaningful change? What it comes back to is the accountability of leadership.”

Jenny O’Donnell, Chief Human Resources Officer, Ryerson University

One of the key elements is looking at employee’s overall impact on the team, rather than just their performance. If it’s a net negative, let them go. vAnd that includes the CEO.

Final Thoughts

As CHROs look to build real, lasting change in the world of diversity and inclusion, there’s no shortage of work to be done. And with the levels of nuance involved, solutions can get buried by less challenging, more overtly lucrative initiatives.

So, when it comes to staying centred on the solution, here’s a simple practice to help guide you: when in doubt, challenge your own biases.

Whether that means subconsciously flipping past resumes with unrecognizable names, or turning a blind eye to subtly gendered language, take a moment to sit with that innate prejudices, experience the discomfort and ask…”why”?

And then, once we think you have an answer ask, “how do I fight this”?

Finally, the most important part — do it.