If a friend asked you what your work environment is like, chances are, you would think about your everyday experience — conversations with coworkers, your day-to-day tasks, things you love to do, and things that frustrate you.
We think about our work in terms of small, everyday moments, and these everyday moments are the key to creating and changing company culture.
Like any culture change, creating an inclusive culture requires sustained effort that meets employees where they are, in the tasks they already do. Inclusion and diversity (I&D) must be more than an HR initiative, check-the-box exercise and a lunch-and-learn topic. It must be embedded throughout the entire employee experience.
Think about the whole story
An effective I&D strategy impacts all employees at all stages of their career — from hiring to onboarding to development and career progression.
I&D starts with attracting and hiring candidates with diverse backgrounds, experiences and expertise, but it does not end there. If employees feel like outsiders or believe their contributions are not valued once they join the company, they are less likely to feel engaged in their day-to-day work and are more likely to leave.
Review your talent management strategy — both the formal and informal touchpoints and processes — to identify gaps and opportunities to be more inclusive. Some questions you may ask in your review include:
- Does your onboarding process make new employees feel welcome and included, setting the right tone for their experience at the organization?
- What are you doing to engage employees who might feel like they don’t belong?
- Could your performance review process overlook great employees who are less visible or approach their work differently than their managers?
- Do all employees have equal opportunities to develop their skills and abilities?
- Are your pay processes fair and objective?
- Do your rewards and benefits meet the needs of your diverse employee population?
Equip managers and leaders
Even if I&D is embedded into your talent management programs and processes, the responsibility for making it real falls on supervisors and managers. That’s a good thing, because employees will see the most impact when local leaders and managers drive the changes in their day-to-day actions.
Because managers are busy, it’s important to frame I&D as a strategic way of managing people to achieve better business outcomes, not just checking a box to avoid a lawsuit or bad press.
It’s also important to provide managers with the tools, training and resources they need to effectively incorporate I&D principles as they hire new talent, complete performance reviews, help employees develop skills and recognize team members. Giving managers practical tools and easy-to-implement actions helps them bring your I&D strategy to life.
When we think about I&D, we remember that one-size-fits-all is usually not the best approach. It may differ between employees and between different areas of your organization, too. Some areas may already have inclusive cultures, while others may struggle.
When communicating best practices for I&D, give managers room to explore different techniques and processes within their individual teams, instead of prescribing a list of specific actions and requirements. Managers often have the best picture of the unique challenges their team faces, which means they are well equipped to choose the techniques that will have the greatest impact.
Remember, cultures don’t change overnight, so it is important to set both short and long-term goals so you can track progress along the way. As you build I&D into your talent management strategy, you create a more inclusive culture, one everyday moment at a time.
Andrea Walsh leads Wills Towers Watson Chicago’s Talent Line of Business. She helps organizations embed Inclusion & Diversity into their talent management programs and processes to enhance business results and attract, retain and engage top talent.
Alison Thumel is an experienced Communication and Change Management consultant at Willis Towers Watson and is based in Chicago.