Take an honest look at your business culture from a diversity perspective
In June's viewpoint I mentioned that a global client - a leader in its sector - found the international diversity organisation assessment it carried out some years ago so useful that it has repeated the process this year.
This is a powerful process that IDC has developed to help its clients examine the patterns of exclusion and inclusion that exist in their organisations. It enables clients to pinpoint the strategic issues that their diversity action plans need to address.
It's only by understanding the barriers to inclusion that exist in your present culture and working environment - for your employees, customers and suppliers from their different, diverse backgrounds - that you can decide what must change for you to become a truly diverse employer and trader: an employer of choice and a suppler of choice.
IDC helps clients do this by asking their employees what helps and hinders them from feeling included, performing to their best, and advancing to their full potential. We employ a range of face-to-face and online methodologies for this.
A principal one is to conduct focus groups made up of employees from particular diverse backgrounds, such as women, ethnic minority, disabled, younger or older, and gay and lesbian. Each focus group is led by one of our expert consultants, who is always of the same identity as the participants. For example, women's focus groups have women facilitators, Asian groups have Asian facilitators. These are known as affinity focus groups.
The mirroring of the facilitators with focus group participants' diversity backgrounds means they can empathise with the employees' issues and struggles, and this connection encourages people to be open and honest with their feedback. It also helps if participants are confident that their comments will be treated confidentially and won't be individually attributed. This is why our clients ask IDC, as experienced diversity practitioners, to facilitate these focus groups.
When carrying out these studies in Europe and North America, we always advise clients to hold focus groups for white men to find out their views. This is critical in demonstrating an inclusive approach, by not excluding what, in the West, is usually the historically dominant group.
This gives clients data against which they can compare the inclusion and exclusion experiences of individuals from non-traditional employment backgrounds. The white men may also be experiencing very real barriers of their own! In a recent assessment we carried out for a construction company the white men felt that there was such a positive emphasis on bringing people from minority backgrounds into the firm that they felt threatened and under-valued.
Clients sometimes ask us, as part of the assessment process, to get the focus groups' views on what needs to change for the firm to be a supplier of choice to customers from their particular affinity grouping.
For example, a supermarket chain asked us to find out the views of its African-Caribbean and Asian employees about what it needed to do to better serve customers from their affinity backgrounds. Companies that have a uniform customer base and want to expand into new diversity markets can, through this process, ask their staff from those affinity backgrounds what they should do differently to attract customers from these segments. Any diverse suppliers you have can also offer insights into how you might enter new minority markets.
A good example of our organisation assessment process is that of a company that decided to check the effectiveness of its diversity efforts by holding affinity focus groups. Our consultants asked focus group members to explain what they felt helped them to participate and succeed in the company, as well as what hindered them.
The company's executives were shocked to learn that everyone except white male employees experienced patterns of everyday behaviour by mangers and colleagues that made them feel excluded and demotivated, lowering their self-esteem.
As a result of feedback from the focus groups, the company included setting-up employee networks in its diversity action plan. It established separate networks for BAME (black and minority ethnic) individuals, women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) employees. These groups offered advice on how the firm could build a more inclusive organisational culture, and how it could better serve its customers from the diversity sectors represented by the networks.
The European head of their business explained to me recently how these networks have helped the executive understand the barriers to advancement experienced by these groups. For example, the women's network persuaded them of the need to invest in technologies that help employees make better use of flexible working policies. As a result, senior women with young families are staying at the company.
Gaining the top and bottom line improvements offered from effective diversity policies
The critical success factors for an effective diversity intervention
Understanding what areas of diversity and inclusion already work in your business culture
Is your organisation really a 'meritocracy'?