Next Level D&I: From good to great to future proof

When a company has completed more than 15 years of D&I work – in all aspects and areas – they ask us which higher level they could reach. For every D&I practitioner, staying relevant is key. Here is the latest guidance.

Imagine you have all your processes aligned to D&I, an open culture created and inclusive behaviours developed on all levels. Your internal and external communication reflect D&I and your participation in rankings and awards is regularly successful, also because your various metrics underpin continuous progress. Leading companies on that level sometimes feel as if maintenance was the main thing they should focus on.

Our analyses show, however, that there is a next level D&I which will also overcome some current problematic reactions (from mainstream / majority perspectives) and some persisting disconnects (e.g. from digital transformation, globalisation or agility). Altogether five changes can make D&I a future proof concept which delivers more robust business benefits at the same time.

1_ Redefine Diversity to make everyone feel included and belonging

To include all individuals has been the proclaimed ambition of D&I for many years. But critical reactions as well as substantial backlash clearly show that D&I concepts and messages to date have not conveyed the aspired inclusion in a credible way. Considering the (non-discrimination) roots and (quota) development of D&I over time, this is no surprise. However, analyses show that one of the few ways to optimise D&I and make it future proof is to make sure mainstream or majority groups feel to be included and to benefit from D&I as well. As disadvantages for some groups persist and need to be addressed, there is no easy solution how to achieve this. Removing micro messages and mechanisms suggesting that dominant groups are ‘the problem’ is a first step that still needs to be accomplished.

2_ Align D&I goals and strategies to reflect the value-chain and lead to business benefits

Consistent with the first element mentioned before, most D&I storylines could be improved in order to describe a business-focused approach. Most understandably, the focus to date has been lying on the reflection of talent markets, fairness and the best possible utilisation of resources. Related messages highlighted diversity (or specific dimensions thereof) while the business case was described on a higher level. Taking D&I to the next level requires to draw a more comprehensive picture that puts business priorities and challenges in the centre and describes the elements required to add value to these priorities. Such revamped storylines will not only be more accurate, they will also be more accepted and more effective in explaining further changes needed.

3_ Create metrics that check for persisting biases in your culture or processes

Narrowly defined metrics have been one major source for so-called misperceptions of D&I. A focus on few quantitative KPIs and often only on gender and maybe nationality, has not helped in creating a broad business-based understanding of D&I, nor to enlist buy-in from mainstream groups. More holistic sets of KPIs are not only more adequate to evaluate the D&I value-creation process, they will also find a lot more acceptance. Such comprehensive D&I success measurement covers the perceived openness or other relevant values of the corporate culture as well as the inclusiveness of processes and behaviours.

4_ Use critical thinking of all stakeholders to identify untapped opportunities

Research confirms that a large part of the corporate D&I agenda is determined through peer comparison processes. Contrary to this swarm comfort-and-safety approach, companies strive to develop their own specific frameworks in most business and HR/people/leadership fields. Similarly, they are more likely to reach their next level of D&I by critically reflecting their particular situations in order to identify related room for improvement. High levels of specificity can be expected in the area of corporate culture and leadership as these are rooted in the organisation’s history, industry and other contexts. Consequently, current D&I strategies focus on culture and leadership. In this context, critical thinking creates forward leaps by challenging assumptions.

5_ Embed D&I (visibly!) in business and leadership processes and tools

While the evidence for the business benefits of well-managed D&I has become overwhelming, the reality of tangible and measurable business benefits created through D&I has remained occasional. The talent and CSR foci of recent years have most likely contributed to this. At the same time, the success stories of D&I being utilised as a propeller for the business are significant. What appears to be lacking – and hence serves as an impetus to get to the next level – is the scaling of both the evidence for the business case and the positive anecdotal experiences. In order to achieve this, D&I will have to be embedded more explicitly in business processes and leadership models and tools.

D&I has to change to become future proof

D&I practitioners love to explain the need for change to their audiences. The time has come when they can prove their own ability to adapt to the new landscape and rethink paradigms (and assumptions…) that were successful in the past. Globalisation has been a driver for D&I in recent years and the alignment of the two is still ongoing. In the meantime, the rules of the digital transformation and the backlash from populist and post-truth campaigns have changed the context for D&I in a way that a fundamental revision is required. Companies that have mature D&I agendas in place find an opportunity to take their framework to the next level. Everybody else can integrate the new thinking into continuous development of their D&I paradigms.


Further Reading