5 key steps to implementing a successful diversity program

5 key steps to a successful diversity program

HR leaders play a very sensitive, strategic and balancing role in diversity and inclusion in the workplace, writes Purnima Nandy

Workplaces today can be characteristically described as cultural melting pots where facets of cultural diversity and inclusion must be incorporated effectively for businesses to run successfully.

Quite often, however, the diversity blueprint of organisations is weak and flawed, which leads to ineffective policy articulation and implementation thus impacting employee morale and workplace culture.

As HR leaders it is our responsibility to understand the workplace DNA and draft diversity policies which will lead to an inclusive and sensitive workforce. The most common error in organisations’ diversity policies is that it is short-sighted or created for achieving a short-term win. This prevents the employees from truly accepting the diversity gene of the workplace or even adapting to it.

Here are 5 key points that HR leaders should keep in mind in order to create and implement a successful diversity policy at the workplace.

1. Train and sensitise your employees.
This is perhaps the most important element to be considered in the diversity strategy of an organisation. In research conducted by AHRI in 2014, views and opinions on diversity at the workplace from Australian business leaders were collected and one of the most common opinions was that the middle management and sometimes even the leadership were not completely welcoming and supportive of a diverse work group which makes it challenging to implement any strategy amongst the larger workforce. With no leadership buy-in, spending time and resources on training and sensitisation also becomes next to impossible.

This mindset can only be changed with education, awareness and cultural sensitivity training. As HR leaders you need to encourage training your current managers, leaders and staff to develop an inclusive mindset and the behaviour and attitude that one should demonstrate while working with people from different backgrounds.

2. Understand the various elements of a diverse workgroup and map which one will fit your business DNA.
Diversity at the workplace can be of various types; gender diversity, cultural diversity as well as inclusivity of differently-abled employees. Depending on the nature of your business, the clients involved and the skills and capabilities required, diversity strategies should be put into place. For example, one of the best ways of deploying cultural diversity is to include it in an organisation’s internship and traineeship programs. This strategy enables to bring together a young culturally diverse workgroup which learns to work together while imbibing the firm’s culture and work practices.

Especially in the case of gender diversity, it is commonly seen that organisations include in their policies that they are focussing on recruiting more women in their leadership roles but the deployment of that policy is not done with the right spirit.

3. Don’t diversify for extremely short-term goals like an award – give it time.
Diversity takes time. It cannot be included in the DNA of the workforce overnight. One of the most difficult things is change and tougher than that is to sustain the change. The diversity program of any organisation has to start months before recruiting employees from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Enough time has to be given and a lot of training has to be given to current employees to sensitise them to this change. If recruiting physically disabled employees, the infrastructure of the organisation has to be made inclusive for them to ease their movement and day to day operations. Diversifying for a short-term goal will only disrupt the workforce.

4. Keep it strategic and inclusive.
The diversification strategy has to be devised to include all elements and departments of the business. It cannot only be an HR initiative and just limited to recruitment. There have to be long-term plans to include this diverse workforce in all elements and hierarchies of the business. The true essence of the strategy will come into play when organisations understand that diversity policies and investments truly impact the profit lines of a business and it is not just a cosmetic aspect of the organisaiton.

One of the best ways to keep things strategic and not just cosmetic is to include diversity initiatives in the organisation’s values, vision, marketing plans, public image and as well in the technology and operative methods of the organisation.

5. Avoid pigeonholing people.
Nothing kills a diversity initiate like stereotyping people and cultures. Especially during employee training sessions, special care has to be taken to ensure that the messages and learning imparted is not stereotypical in nature. This can only prevent a diverse workforce from functioning seemlessly as people from any culture hate to be pigeonholed.

The HR department of organisations should put together events, mentoring sessions and policies where cultural barriers will be broken and people can come together without being identified only through the one lens.

As HR leaders we play a very sensitive, strategic and balancing role to ensure that we bring about diversity and inclusion at the workplace and there are three balls that we are constantly juggling:

  1. This has to be a top-down approach with the business leaders in the driving seat
  2. The basis of recruitment has to be the skill and capability match and not just that the employee fulfils the diverse parameter.
  3. We have to train and get the rest of the workforce ready to accept this inclusion for long-erm success.

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