Updated: Jun 10
Achieving Progress through Data-Informed Strategy rather than Platitudes
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As we navigate the disruptions that emerged from the pandemic, the protests and the great resignation towards a new normal, organizations need to move from platitudes and performative activism to collective impact to foster systemic change. Too often good intentions relating to equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) gets lost in translation due to a lack of a systematic, evidence-based and data-informed approach organizationally.
Achieving equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) in organizations is one of the most important and sustainable strategic imperatives that leaders can embrace. To transform organizations for employees to thrive, leaders can make real progress by investing time, commitment and resources to become true champions of EDIB through unconventional thinking and by building on empirical evidence and best practices. Today’s forward-thinking organizations and their leaders must flip the platitudes and performative activism premise on its head and realize that instead of trying to change people to fit the organization, we must focus on transforming our organizations to fit all people.
How do we accomplish addressing equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging in organizations, that will increase representation, engagement and better performance? Leaders need to have an understanding of diversity and inclusion, and then create the business case for an evidence-based and data-informed approach to assist employees to deal with the challenges and what is required to drive real progress and rethink how work gets done by creating a learning organization. This is a marathon, not a sprint because it requires building a solid foundation, so the organization can grow as an inclusive organism.
“Organizational leaders need to treat diversity and inclusion as a strategic goal with intention, tactics and actions by building accountability to foster meaningful change and transformation.”
When leaders understand equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging, they can embrace change and new ways of listening, learning and leveraging to effectively address gaps and challenges. They can make a credible and compelling case for diversity and inclusion by ensuring platitudes give way to real and informed strategies. In Getting Serious About Diversity the authors highlighted that “leaders must reject the notion that maximizing shareholder returns is paramount. Instead they must embrace a broader vision of success that encompasses learning, innovation, creativity, flexibility, equity and human dignity.” Leaders need to dispense of platitudes and performative activism and focus on how the organization can harness diversity and inclusion to reshape success. They can realize the benefits of this new approach for the organization and foster a new way of thinking that prioritizes a learning orientation towards equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging. By being adaptable and committed to transforming the organization through an evidence-based and data-informed approach, leaders can learn about their employees as a collective. This will build trust, create openness, create psychological safety and bring curiosity to what they do for their employees, customers and community with mindfulness and intentionality.
“Diversity is a fact. Equity is a choice. Inclusion is an action. Belonging is an outcome.”
— Arthur Chan
Equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) becomes a priority when leaders acknowledge that people are essential to the organization’s purpose and recognize the dignity, value and contribution of each of its employees. Leaders are stewards of the organization’s culture and guardians of mindsets, hence it is also important for them to undergo shifts in mindset, thinking and outlook to champion change, meaningful transformation and real impact. To that end, leaders need to learn about the benefits, burdens and risks of embracing diversity and inclusion initiatives to the wider organization to bring systemic change through an evidence-based and data-informed approach . When leaders make a commitment to learn, it is important to understand first, workforce demographics and perceptions, before taking the logical next steps of understanding what needs improvement and to amplify collective support for the EDIB journey. Equity is the fair and respectful treatment of all people. Diversity refers to the characteristics that make people unique. Inclusion refers to the behaviours and cultural norms that make people feel welcome. Belonging refers to an individual sense of acceptance. Organizations that take steps to incorporate equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging as a business case must understand and articulate that there is an inextricable link between equity and diversity; and inclusion and belonging. This is a collective process and there is no existence of one without the other and they require sustained attention, a process of continuous reflection and action.
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How do we amplify diversity and inclusion?
Engagement Through Listening Sessions
People are the nucleus and the hub of activities of organizations. However, as a collective effort, the question leaders need to consider — Are our organization’s team members reflecting the diverse communities in which we serve, work and live? For organizations that embrace a learning paradigm towards equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging, their leaders should encourage shared experiences to create a framework for evidence-based and data-informed approach to improve the organizational culture and work.
“When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become wiser, more inclusive, and better as an organization.”
The opportunity exists for leaders to champion EDIB ideas throughout the organization when they have representation across groups by race, ethnicity, gender, disability and LGBTQ+identity. This will help the organization know what to measure and have access to data to help achieve its strategic goal of evidence-based and data-informed EDIB initiatives to improve the outcomes and impact. By gleaning perspectives from employees, especially those considered marginalized, underrepresented, equity-seeking and racialized, they can benefit from the insights by incorporating and encouraging ‘listening sessions’ and analyzing the information and perspectives shared.
Leaders who want to make strides with equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging need to leverage organizational culture to foster openness and dialogue to understand how it impact team members engagement who are equity-seeking, marginalized and racialized and their advancement and wellbeing. How this is done, is by leaders and managers providing space and opportunity for employees to start sharing their stories and learn from their differences and inviting consultants, psychologists and equity, diversity and inclusion professionals to facilitate sessions. When organizations incorporate scheduling listening sessions, focus groups and town halls to honour and amplify voices, leaders can uncover helpful feedback and collect data from the stories and perspectives shared by employees to bring meaning to metrics and measurement. Utilizing aforementioned mediums as engagement tools, leaders to have real learning and candid perspectives when they listen, empathize and take steps to change how they engage with the organization’s most valuable resource — its people. An evidence-based and data-informed approach provide leaders with information and perspectives from their employees to start understanding organizational purpose, programs and service through an equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) lens and how they view their organizational experiences.
Building Champions from Organizational Leadership
Leaders need to lead by example and articulate clearly their position to champion equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) making it a strategic imperative and a goal. It requires learning, responsibility, commitment and dedication to incorporate and infuse equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging in the organization culture as a business strategy. Here are examples of organizations and their leaders championing and embracing EDIB as strategy. Canada’s Sheridan College Dr Jane Ngobia, Vice President, Inclusive Communities has been an exemplary leader for the past three years. She champions inclusivity as an essential, authentic and thoughtful strategy at the institution, where there were no Blacks in the executive leadership before her appointment. Now 30 per cent of Sheridan College executives are Blacks. Dr Ngobia notes that “there isn’t a finish line to cross… as our community grows, our approach must grow alongside it…[and]..we have a shared responsibility towards [diversity and] inclusion.”
France’s Schneider Electric have approximately 140,000 employees in over 100 countries. According to Tina Mylon, Senior Vice President, Talent and Diversity, “we know that diversity, equity, and inclusion are some of the top engagement drivers for our workforce.” The challenge for Schneider is how we engage all of our people — but especially our leaders — to make sure they prepare for the diverse workforce of the future. We know we have worked hard at the top levels of our leadership to increase gender diversity. Today, our executive committee, which includes the direct reports to the CEO and chairman, consists of 38% women. Tina notes that we can do better, however, they are pleased about the progress, as this highlights that linking business performance metrics to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is a best practice for us.
Everyone in the organization has an essential role to play in the diversity and inclusion efforts. However, leaders need to champion ambitions and actions, by making the investment and allocate resources, lead learning and change initiatives across employee groups by being visible and build collective participation from the strategic to the operational levels throughout the organization. They will realize that the equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging journey is about real work, commitment, dedication, discipline and consistency when they are EDIB champions. The benefits of championing an evidence-based and data-informed approach will emerge from the shared organizational and cultural knowledge from the learning experiences across ethnic, marginalized and equity-seeking groups.
This results in leaders developing an understanding of the important role EDIB plays in the larger organizational narratives and having an appreciation of the internal cultural communities (employee resource groups) and the needs of the people they serve. By acknowledging and honouring the enormous contributions that these employees have made to the organization will improve performance and collective learning. Through employee engagement and activities leaders need to champion and encourage participation in cultivating awareness of diverse groups within the organization given the multiplicities of identities, cultures and history. This will help them to understand their organization’s diversity through building capacity to engender becoming a learning organization that incorporates an evidence-based and data-informed approach to equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging.
Make Diversity and Inclusion a Strategic Goal so it gets Measured
Leaders should embrace the management adage “what gets measured, gets done” that is applicable to diversity and inclusion initiatives to build a more inclusive organization that amplifies diverse representation, advancement, engagement and equity. In making the business case for evidence-based and data-informed approach, it will highlight for leaders what conditions necessitate success and how every employee will have the opportunity to flourish, thrive and bring their authentic self to work. With that pathway, leaders can have a new understanding of the efforts by leveraging curiosity, openness and acceptance of employees’ experience to optimize the real, perceived and full benefits of having a diverse workforce.
This approach can help focus the leader’s efforts and commitments toward more open and transparent metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that bring meaning to equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) initiatives by expanding measurement and coaching for all the strategic goals. When leaders approve and endorse EDIB as a strategic imperative, each board of directors and senior leadership executive can envision strategy through goal setting, data collection and analysis of information to explore and examine progress over time. Through an evidence-based and data-informed approach, leaders can effectively and efficiently champion EDIB strategies by embracing and embedding it in all programs, policies and initiatives.
The challenge for leaders is to ensure robust data on equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging assist in uncovering gaps and issues to ensure quality information is an outcome of the organizational effort. It will require context and adaptability for the metrics such as recruitment, representation, customer experience and supplier diversity — international, national, regional or local. The way to bring meaning through metrics and measurement organizationally is to understand the contextual challenges through dialogue, engagement, listening and research with team members and leaders.
To engender wellbeing, impact and return on investment (ROI), leaders need to ensure actions and accountability are features of the EDIB strategy. When they are an essential element of the day-to-day activities undertaken by team members and leaders who give their time, attention and resources to it, this fosters conditions for transformational change. By making it a bona fide aspect of feedback, evaluation and performance it amplifies the organizational learning continuum. Leaders will have a collaborative opportunity to celebrate and empower employees when the efforts result in greater employee satisfaction, innovation, productivity and wellbeing from working to create a more diverse and inclusive organization.
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Reflecting on the tasks at hand for leaders is a process that requires a team sport approach to build and get the commitment. As we emerge from the pandemic, we have the gift of opportunity to seize this moment in time to create new pathways and reimagine purpose. By taking an approach as a learning organization with an evidence-based and data-informed approach, leaders can create a trajectory that leads to knowledge, understanding, growth and impact. When they focus on the strategic imperatives — more coherently and systematically, they give equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging their due importance. That is the attention, commitment, dedication and resources to do what is right — make the organization a place that amplifies equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging — for everyone. Even though it might be challenging, it will be rewarding for the organization as it becomes more open, flexible and adaptable.
By developing the resolve to rise above the status quo and become exemplary champions, leaders will be viewed as a force for good in their organization and that will make the EDIB investment worthwhile. The team members, customers and communities will be enriched and excited about the promise of a fulfilling strategic imperative, one that aims to create a more diverse, safer, happier and more inclusive work environment that embrace — listening, learning, transforming and leading change is at the heart of cultivating value through intentional actions, accountability, best practices and results.
Therefore, leaders can finally unlock, the bold intentions, actions and aspirations for equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging in all they do with the evidence-based and data informed approach — in serving their employees. This will enable them to celebrate the transformative work to promote change and build an equitable and inclusive culture that allows all employees to thrive, which ultimately fuels growth and sustainability over the long term.
© Hugh Anthony, PhD | The New Humanity Initiative. All rights reserved. 2022  https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters  https://www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2021/01/07/3-considerations-to-make-when-conducting-employee-listening-sessions/?sh=1856cf0d6aa2  https://www.sheridancollege.ca/newsroom/articles/equity-inclusion/dr-jane-ngobia-champions-inclusivity-as-an-essential-authentic-component-at-sheridan
Hugh Anthony, PhD, Contributor
Hugh Anthony is a storyteller, speaker and strategist, who believes ‘stories are humanity’s currency’ and shares his passion for people, places and the prolific experiences that intersect living, lifestyle and culture. He utilizes storytelling to help leaders create and curate their stories to deepen understanding, elevate their brand and amplify impact to move them from success to significance.
Hugh Anthony is Head of Strategy, Culture and Inclusion at The New Humanity Initiative, a social enterprise that builds on a collective mosaic to deepen racial equity and create inclusive organizations to inspire communities of learning. He holds a PhD from the University of Waterloo with specializations in leadership, culture and the management of service. Hugh is also a former teaching professor at the Toronto Metropolitan University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies and has taught at the University of Waterloo, University of Technology, Jamaica and the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean and served as Executive Director for a social service non-profit charitable organization. He resides in Toronto, Canada.