How to best implement diversity strategies in the workplace

To compete in a market place experiencing significant demographic changes, businesses must develop and implement a diversity management strategy to attract and retain the best global talent. But what is the best practice to do so?

As a term, diversity generally refers to the differences among people, such as race, colour, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, political affiliation.

As a management practice however, it involves much more than “just” a set of HR policies. Diversity management is about the culture of the organisation and the source of its strategic thinking.

In a world where globalisation has brought a diverse set of customers to companies that previously dealt with a homogenous customer base, and in a world where innovation is one of the key competitive advantages; composing a diverse workforce has become a necessity.

The reason why is simple; no one can genuinely understand a culture or a customer segment better than the person with the same background. Likewise, no other workforce can keep a company innovative, flexible and vibrant then the one that is composed of people possessing different assumptions and ways of doing things. Because, besides bureaucracy, is there any bigger killer of innovation than people with the same way of thinking?

Diversity is hard to implement

Despite the importance, diversity strategies are difficult to implement. Once in place they often do not deliver the benefits they promise.

Why is this the case?

One reason is definitely the attitude of the company. Diversity programmes are likely to fail if they are set up because it is perceived to be the right thing to do without reflecting a true commitment to creating a work environment that fosters the best workforce.

The other thing is that many companies underestimate the time and effort required to implement such strategy. Rather than working towards integrating diversity into the organisation’s strategy and all HR activities, companies often see it as just another “stand-alone project”.

Finally, large companies especially often fail to address the more hard-wired aspects such as management style, hierarchy and culture. Because of that, the implementation often fails.

How to work around this?

Best practice experience suggests at least five crucial steps when implementing a successful and lasting diversity strategy. These are listed below:

1. Involve the entire top management team

The senior leadership must be involved and visible throughout the whole diversity project. Visionary speeches have little impact alone. The CEO and other senior leaders should be visible at workshops, training programmes and during Q&A sessions on diversity.

An important first step in showing the way is also to implement diversity at top management level.

2. Adapt the organisational structure

The organisational structure must support the diversity effort. This can be done by creating a diversity office and appointing a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). If the organisational structure supports the diversity offers, it is more likely to be taken seriously across the whole business.

3. Communicate about the initiative on continuous basis

Communicating about why diversity is crucial for the success of your business is highly important. The communication must be plentiful and include variety of channels such as social media, newsletters, intranet, seminars, meetings, posters and so on.

4. Create a formal project plan

Create a formal project plan to support the diversity strategy with measurable objectives that is integrated with the rest of the company’s strategic objectives and operations.

During the years, various research has shown that if such project is not carefully planned in advance using tested and robust processes, critical elements will not receive the proper attention.

Such project plans should take into consideration the length of time taken to cultivate a mind-set that acknowledges that diversity is part of the overall strategy. The project should also include a performance evaluation programme that functions as an accountability mechanism.

5. Change all HR initiatives to include diversity

A company should consider how it can reach a wider talent pool by initiatives such as:

INcluding diversity in HR

Learn more about Diversity Management. Read our recent blog post: 3 reasons why diversity is important in service outsourcing or download our study and White Paper: A diverse leadership yields higher earnings.

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