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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

HR Leaders Round Table event: Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing

On a sunny September morning, HappyMaven held their latest HR Leaders Round Table event, on the topic of diversity, inclusion and wellbeing...

... and how businesses have struggled to champion, address and embed people initiatives despite being at the forefront of conversations for at least the last decade. 

HappyMaven’s Chief Happiness Officer, Suki Bassi was joined by panelists Leadership, Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, Heeral Gudka; Mental Health and Well-Being Consultant, Caroline Ribeiro-Nelson; and founder and CEO of Umbrella Analytics, Nancy Roberts

Suki led the passionate and insightful discussion with questions, topics, and frustrations that she wishes leadership teams and boards would address.

“Society’s issues are workplace issues”

Launching straight into the big issues, Caroline highlighted how minority groups are impacted disproportionately by mental health issues, specifically touching on the Black Lives Matter movement which has highlighted how utterly traumatised and exhausted black people are when it comes to experiencing inequality, prejudice and abuse and how this exhaustion has a direct impact on the state of their mental welfare in the workplace.

HR Leaders have been responsible for managing the implications of this huge societal issue, including workforce mental health and safety, inclusion policies and how dealing with trauma impacts the people that they are responsible for. Why should this inherent, sociological issue fall onto just one department within the business? It is part of so many employees lived experience and that is why it should be addressed at every stage of management. 

“Is inclusion just political correctness?” 

Heeral addressed the dismissive attitude towards diversity and inclusion, particularly within the workplace. When people dismiss the importance of these subjects, it can mean that the truths make for uncomfortable discussions. Dangerously, these opinions can be used to stop conversations, especially when used by leaders or people with influence. However what is actually needed is clear, transparent and respectful conversations and awareness that some people have faced, and continue to face, difficult experiences on a day to day basis.

Some people don’t want to believe that inequality is true or happening within their company because then they have to self-reflect about how they may be perpetuating negative experiences for people. Inclusion makes real business sense, so we must stop avoiding conversations, build resilience and empathy and engage with people whose opinions are not being heard. 

“Bring your whole self to work”

Caroline unpicked the complex subject of intersectionality and what it means to bring your whole self to work. Intersectionality represents the whole person and all of the different elements of who they are, their lived experience and how they interact with people. Embracing intersectionality allows us to understand the different facets of who we are and how they intersect, how we experience the world and what qualities we bring to it. It makes business sense to connect people and cultures to bring new facets and viewpoints into the workplace. 

Nancy highlighted how intersectionality impacts the workplace on a deeper level using the gender pay gap as an example. Women as a whole will earn less, however, when broken down by race, disability, sexuality and socioeconomic background, it provides a whole new perspective. It’s important to stress that these elements are not in competition, they simply open up conversations about experiences and challenges and acknowledge biases that impact people’s everyday lives. By opening up these conversations about inclusion, it creates a culture of psychological safety, as we can’t get to the root of the problem if we fail to acknowledge the intersectionality of these issues. 

“Quotas work”

Nancy discussed the often contentious topic of quotas in the workplace, with many people expressing negative viewpoints about fulfilling quotas within an organisation, as nobody wants to feel like they’ve been hired to tick a box or overlooked for someone less qualified. However, quotas are proven to have a positive impact on businesses.

Most businesses in the UK have unspoken quotas, so formalising them to create a real behavioural change can make a difference. Stop thinking about how quotas ‘bump up’ people who don’t deserve it, and consider it the opposite way - clearing out people who are in positions of power because of their background and connections, not their leadership experience or qualifications.

Research tells us that if we put targets around diversity you will see changes in behaviour and results, whereas if people are asked to informally improve diversity, it will not make a marked change. If simply exposing people to the problem and relying on their humanity to solve it was enough, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.

HR must use quotas intelligently considering the behavioural change they want to make within the business, and consider if they’re willing to wait for those changes to happen or if you want to start making a difference now. 

“Do labels help or hinder change?”

Labels such as BAME can be useful at a high-level to begin conversations to initiate change and understand the difference in opportunity and culture between white people and everybody else. Beyond that initial, simplistic view, people need to understand and value the nuances of intersectionality and individuality of their people. Using these labels does a disservice to diversity, sidelining people and making it easy to avoid addressing wider issues and patterns. To develop a culture of openness and empathy, we need to address people as individuals and value their unique experiences. 

“Are leadership teams negating their responsibility by outsourcing Diversity and Inclusion?”

There are two ways of viewing this; businesses that outsource their people processes or diversity policies, without taking internal responsibility or making a meaningful change from the specialists will not grow, develop, and thrive. Whereas, businesses who take advice and collaborate with specialists and their employees to establish new structures and processes will benefit from outsourcing to a specialist in that field. 

“Data to inform HR and Diversity and Inclusion decisions”

Diversity and inclusion should be tackled as a business case and afforded the careful consideration that would go into any other business decision, with targets, analysis and accountability. Beginning analysis may lead to uncomfortable discoveries and fear around being exposed, but it’s the first step to progress. Data enables objective conversations, rather than emotionally driven decisions. All companies can start looking at the data they already have, from salaries, to survey results and developing a strategy from there. 

Key Takeaways

  • What is stopping you from having brave and difficult conversations about diversity in the workplace? Only when we start having these conversations can we start to solve the issues. 
  • Acknowledging people’s different experiences and challenges is key to understanding how to work openly and collaboratively together. 
  • Quotas exist to drive diversity, formalising policies will help to positively change behaviours and create a truly inclusive working environment.
  • Data holds the key. Start the process of collating and analysing the data that your company holds and from those insights, discover and agree the areas for improvement.

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