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4 Strategies for Building Company Buy-in for Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion in 2021

Seminal research from McKinsey and Company in 2015 points out that diversity within an organization correlates with better financial performance, in some cases, such as ethnic diversity, by as much as 36%. This research quickly became the foundation of a whole new generation of recruiting and HR professionals eager to bring more diverse, equitable, and inclusive recruiting and hiring practices to their organizations. 

Fast forward to today, and unfortunately this inequity continues, in many cases made worse by a global pandemic that disproportionately affects minorities. Many organizations have ignored the revenue impact of remaining passive on this issue, and it’s been difficult for even the most passionate teams to make real progress over the past few years. In fact, a recent informal poll of 250 recruiting and hiring professionals in the webinar “The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 2021 Playbook,” 40% of attendees indicated they were still at the stage of getting buy-in within their organizations.

While there are many different challenges to investing in and promoting DEI initiatives within an organization, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to be the force for change. If your organization is working to improve its DEI status, here are the five most important things you can do in 2021 according to DEI experts at the top of their field. 

“DEI is not an initiative or an HR program. It is leadership work fundamentally, and it’s transformational work to get an organization on the other side of this hill. It requires hard, sometimes uncomfortable work, and there’s no way around it — only through it.”

– John Hardy, Diversity & Inclusion Sr. Manager, Experiential Learning at Best Buy

DEI Expert Panel

DE&I Playbook

STRATEGY NO. 1: Get leadership on board

First and foremost, true progress with DEI only happens when the executive leadership  team is committed to leading this journey with the organization, not just supporting it in words. Individual members of the executive team must make an effort to understand the gravity of the issue, participate in focus groups, and understand the “empathy gap” that can exist between the higher ups within an organization and the rest of the staff. Ultimately, this will lead to a new set of leadership principles that champion equitable performance management, inclusive leadership, and mutual respect. 

Getting buy-in from the leadership team starts with creating a compelling business case for investing in DEI with time, resources, and money. Read, dissect, and summarize the major external research reports on this topic and bring it back to your leadership team in a way that makes it clear why DEI is an essential part of achieving the company’s mission and vision.

“It’s worth noting here that inclusion is not intuitive,” explains Hardy. “Humans have a deep biological fear of the ‘other,’ that, in the past, has resulted in conflict, war, and trials and tribulations. But that’s also why this work is so important. Leaders need to understand that when they bring a team of 100,00 people together to achieve a common goal, those people bring their different backgrounds, philosophies, and life experiences with them. Bringing leaders through immersive experiences that put them in the shoes of ‘the other’ allows them to update their own narratives and be influenced by those lived experiences.”

STRATEGY NO. 2: Take a long-term approach to cultivating DE&I

Employee resource groups, DEI training, and company-wide book clubs — these are all important initiatives to undertake to show employees that DEI is an important company-wide mission from the top down. But these events in themselves are not enough to inspire or support lasting change within any organization. In reality, a diverse and inclusive workplace is not an accomplishment to be achieved — it’s a culture to cultivate with a long-term strategy. 

“Urgency is the enemy of inclusion,” says Fontan. “Just focusing on being fast and efficient will not deliver the results an organization needs to be successful with DEI in the long term. Organizations need to look at themselves through the lens of what actually needs to be done differently even as they do the work.”

STRATEGY NO. 3: Don’t limit yourself to popular frameworks or niche job boards 

One of many hurdles to more diverse and inclusive hiring practices is the non-sequitur that companies should hire the best, not the best within a certain demographic of the population. This can lead to recruiting practices like the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” wherein a company reviews one or two underrepresented minority candidates to check a task off the list, but then moves forward with business as usual. 

True change that will take root within an organization requires more. It’s about researching your audience, the environment, and opening the dialogue to approach and recruit new talent to the organization that may not have applied previously. Commonly misunderstood talking points in the DEI space must be addressed, explained, and discussed in a safe place, such as open forums within the organization and Q&A sessions with professional DEI consultants. 

“Some people need the DEI discussion to start back at zero,” explains Delpeache. “From the response we see — even evidenced by leadership, such as the comments from the Wells Fargo CEO in regards to Black talent in the banking industry — indicates that many people don’t understand very basic concepts in this space.”

Delpeache continues: “For example, when we talk about diversifying our talent pool, we’re not talking about people who are inferior. We’re talking about skilled, qualified people who don’t happen to see job roles listed in the places where so many recruiters simply ‘post and pray’ to fill roles. The discussion is about making the real effort to go out and find that talent rather than settling for our default talent pools.”

STRATEGY NO. 4: Support your DEI strategy with metrics

As your organization puts its values into action, the right tech can elevate your approach and support your DEI strategy with metrics. Over time, you can see how your messaging is resonating with new talent and what changes take place in the demographics of your hiring decisions. 

For example, add a statement at bottom of all of your job listings to let candidates know about your equitable hiring practices and encourage people from diverse backgrounds to apply — a simple practice that influenced 50% of candidates to apply for roles at Fiix Software, according to Dean Delpeache, Fiix Software’s Sr. Manager of Talent Acquisition. Delpeache and his team also used LeverTRM to deliver a 62% increase in employees from underrepresented demographics company wide over the course of two years. 

You can also ask candidates and employees to self-identify with their EEO and demographic information. You might think candidates would decline to fill out that information, but Delpeache and his team have a 92% success rate within the Lever platform. Their team then looks at job descriptions based on the data to ensure they’re appealing to a wide variety of people for each role.  

Final Thoughts: Don’t be overwhelmed by the big picture of buy-in — take small, impactful steps to your DE&I goals

Does it ever seem like the barriers to creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces are too many to count? If so, you’re not alone. As more leaders in the human resources and recruiting space begin to understand the value of encouraging diversity in the workplace, we also uncover more important work to be done. 

But the fact that there’s hard work to be done does not mean the work is not worth doing — it’s just a matter of organizing and orienting your organization’s resources to the right goal, and the committing to the long-term effort to create working environments that allow every individual employee to bring their full self – and full potential – to work. 

Lever is transforming how companies hire more diverse talent at scale. If you’re committed to broadening your talent pool and attracting a diverse mix of candidates to your company, click here to schedule a time with Lever.