Diversity and Inclusion – How do we harness intent so there is tangible impact?

Article written by Monica Mwanje. 

High-level diversity and inclusion image that illustrates some of the different identity aspects, source: http://www.invistaperforms.org 

“Diversity and Inclusion is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.”  

On a daily basis I see social media updates, blog posts, articles all proclaiming that a particular organisation is working towards a diverse workforce. A leader quoted saying something along the lines of how “diversity of thought” is crucial for their business and how “everyone is welcome”. Lots of lovely, well-intentioned soundbites. But when you scratch below the surface, are these things any more than just well meaning intentions?

What are the systems, processes, structures and actions required to create a diverse and inclusive workforce?

How do we begin to harness the willing and doing of organisations, so the conversation moves to a state of diversity and inclusion just being?

By this I mean that all of the intent has resulted in actions which have made a tangible impact; with the outcome being a diverse and inclusive culture with clear direction and a blueprint for how to maintain and improve it.

Implementing a diversity policy on its own isn’t enough, inclusion is required too. I liken it to a garden. You decide to plant potatoes, an apple tree, roses, sunflowers and some mint. On a basic level you then place them all in the soil, haphazardly, not concerned about if they are in sunny or shaded spots.

You leave this diverse range of crops to the elements and only the potatoes and mint thrive. Everything else dies. You’ve implemented diversity, but you failed to implement inclusion via not considering, understanding and then providing the care and conditions needed for the apple tree, roses and sunflowers to grow too.

The plants in your garden will thrive with the right conditions, care and support. The individuals and teams that make up your organisation will also thrive with the right ecosystem around them.

Turning Intent into action.

Understand the lay of the land and establish what is needed.

The advantage you have is that you can open up dialogue with your teams to establish what is needed. However, you need to facilitate safe spaces where people can truly open up and be listened to.

You then need to do something with the information that is garnered. You need to build trust amongst your teams that you have heard and taken on board the feedback and show the intentions are not just words via taking specific actions based on what your teams have told you they need. This requires true empowerment and supporting budgets so that it can be made to happen. You may require external support from facilitators who can help you create these safe spaces.

Or you may need to empower champions within the business, people who are trusted by colleagues and peers. If you take this approach these champions will need the power, budget, training and psychological safety to make change happen otherwise it could simply turn into a nice to have talking shop. Do not underestimate the emotional labour and effort champions will give in these roles, recognising this and providing leadership support is key to making it achievable. The time required for change to occur and bed in, should not be underestimated either. Establishing measures so that progress can be demonstrated and fed back to stakeholders is vital.

If you’ve ever had a piece of clothing tailored to fit your body, different factors need to come together for the end result to be a good fit. The skill of the tailor, measurements of your body and feedback from you to the tailor on how it fits and feels are integral parts of the process. Your inclusion and diversity efforts need this very same approach. How can you be sure you are implementing something that will be a good fit for the people in your organisation without engaging them appropriately throughout the process? Otherwise there’s a danger of your efforts being a poorly crafted one size fits all, rather than a desired tailored fit for your company.

Moving forward to deliver tangible impact

I am not professing to have any or all of the answers. I am continually learning and educating myself with regards to inclusivity and being understanding of others and their experiences.  I also read a lot and tap into the learning of others about what is or is not working in their organisations.

Some of my favourite resources for practical insights, advice, learning and seeing things from different perspectives include, amongst others:

  • http://www.theotherbox.org/ – I primarily follow their Instagram and twitter feeds, which has opened me up to invaluable writing and resources. They also run workshops and events.
  • https://minoritiesinstem.wordpress.com/ – their twitter feed is great. It is run as a RoCur (Rotating Curator) account. This means that each week the twitter feed is curated by a different Black or Minority Ethnic individual that is either studying or working in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Besides sharing insights from their working life, they also highlight different initiatives and tools that can help organisations have or progress conversations around diversity issues.
  • https://stemettes.org – their mission is: “To inspire the next generation of females into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) fields by showing them the amazing women already in STEM via a series of panel events, hackathons, exhibitions, and mentoring schemes.” Their outreach is effective and fun.

I’ve also recently started following Pride In STEM on twitter, again to increase my knowledge and awareness and understand what I can do to help make things better.

Taking steps towards delivering and embedding diversity and inclusivity into your organisation does not need to be a lonely journey. There are lots of resources and powerful assets out their that can help you craft something that works for your organisation.

To summarise it all, my top tips would be:

  1. Talk with and listen to the people in your organisation. They are truly your greatest asset. Creating a safe space for them to speak up can deliver powerful insights that will enable you to implement an informed action plan.
  2. Empower – the champions and leaders in your organisation so they are able to deliver the change. Support them and back them with demonstrable actions (this includes money and a platform within the organisation) and not just words.
  3. Review and reflect – recognise that it is a continual learning process. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to learn from the best practice of others. Your organisation is not static and thus neither are your policies and culture. Some initiatives may fail, take the learning from this and use it to inform and improve the next actions you take. If people can see that you are genuinely trying and that you are willing to collaboratively work together to improve things, that will go a long way. As they say actions speak louder than words.

If you are looking to engage some consultancy support around inclusivity and diversity in your organisation, you can get in touch via email enquiries@mmcslimited.com or telephone: +44(0) 3332249737.

MM Creative Solutions is a specialist management consultancy providing services for nuclear and other regulated sectors. We help our clients to grow their businesses and deliver this via the provision of: Bid Services, Business and Organisational Development Services and Independent Peer Review. We primarily work with Engineering, Construction and Technical organisations.


This article was originally published via Monica Mwanje’s LinkedIn profile.