5 major D&I mistakes to avoid

There is no quick fix to improve diversity and inclusion, but careful thought and consideration can prevent organisations making five major mistakes

One of the many things the Black Lives Matter movement has done this year is to shine a bright light on diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. And when you consider 66 per cent of FTSE 100 companies have all-white management teams and just 3.5 per cent of senior executives come from a BAME – Black, Asian and minority ethnic – background, you can start to see why.

It doesn’t just stop at a lack of diverse representation either. It’s also the lack of a safe and inclusive workplace culture. According to Glassdoor, 55 per cent of employed adults have witnessed or experienced discrimination in the workplace. Employees should expect to feel safe and comfortable in their working environment and not alienated or isolated by their organisation.

Renewed discussion around D&I in working environments has exposed wide cracks and revealed five common mistakes companies make.

1. Using the same recruitment and hiring process to find diverse talent

A common mistake when it comes to embracing diversity in the workplace is approaching the hiring and recruitment process in the same way as before. Sonya Barlow, a D&I expert and founder of Like Minded Females, says “companies are not expanding their reach when it comes to looking for a talent pool”, while also attempting to attract diverse talent through the same old recruiters. Companies are simply not diversifying their efforts to find the available talent.

Mac Alonge, founder of The Equal Group, says companies need to be looking at the “big picture” when hiring new employees. Where is the vacancy being advertised? Are the ads accessible to the people you’re trying to reach? Which recruitment agencies are being used? These are just some of the questions employers need to be asking themselves.

To bridge this gap and successfully bring on new and diverse employees, Barlow suggests working with community groups and consultants to ensure all parts of the hiring process are diverse and inclusive. A new focus on remote and online working has shown companies can consider “new talent without borders”, reducing the need to approach the same recruitment agencies again and again, she says.

2. Hiring a D&I lead to fix the issues

There is an assumption that hiring a D&I lead will fix everything. Glassdoor recently reported that June saw a huge 50 per cent increase in D&I job openings. But bringing in a D&I lead can be just another form of tokenistic hiring, says Leyya Sattar and Roshni Goyate, co-founders of The Other Box. She says that unless the D&I lead has “buy-in from senior leadership, budget and influence, it will be a superficial, surface-level action and ultimately a waste of money”.

The Black Lives Matter movement has exposed companies that use diverse employees as token hires and ultimately approach D&I as a tick-box exercise. That’s not to say companies shouldn’t hire a D&I lead. An employee dedicated to inclusion and diversity in the workplace is a good thing.

But, as Sattar says, this role must become an integral part of the company and not just viewed as an add-on, if companies want to see real benefits. They must be given adequate budgets, staff and the freedom to implement effective policies.

3. Depending on diverse employees to organise D&I initiatives

As well as token hires, some companies decide to look inwards to their diverse employees. These employees may have no specific skills and experience when it comes to D&I, but have simply been approached because of their personal characteristics.

Sattar points out that The Other Box has had hundreds of conversations with people from diverse backgrounds who’ve had to take on the responsibility of their company’s D&I efforts. She says: “It cannot fall to the most marginalised to do the work, or for them to do it without compensation, when D&I isn’t part of their job description.” D&I should not be viewed as something that only affects those from marginalised backgrounds.

Instead, companies need to be properly prioritising and investing in D&I efforts. Training programmes, such as unconscious bias training, should be put in place and regularly maintained. Experts should be consulted on how to establish D&I policies and practices in the workplace, and be paid for their work. This way, extra responsibility isn’t passed off to employees, while also creating an inclusive working environment.

4. Classing D&I as one and the same

Another crucial mistake that companies make is grouping D&I together, without distinction. This assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Liz Johnson, founder of The Ability People and Podium, explains that “diverse hiring doesn’t automatically translate into an inclusive culture”. If a company has only thought about the diverse representation of employees, without giving proper thought to the working environment and culture these employees are walking into, that’s a failure on the inclusion front, she says.

The differences that impact individuals and their needs at work must be recognised, if companies want real change. Johnson uses the example of how disabled employees can be treated. She says: “Even with all the talent in the world, if workers with disabilities are parachuted into roles without the appropriate resources, equipment and support, they cannot be expected to do their jobs to the best of their ability.”

People need to feel safe and supported at work. Alonge says employers can do this by taking the time to have genuine conversations with their employees, to give them a voice and to also see if additional support is needed. Because, as Jess Mally, writer and co-founder of Belovd Agency, explains, organisations that fail to look beyond the issue of access and hiring tend to find there is a high turnover among the diverse talent coming in.

5. Fixating on signing pledges and commitments

The final mistake is one that has become much more common in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement: the signing of company pledges and commitments. “Human resources departments have become public relations departments, where the way a company is perceived is more important than the reality,” says Jack Mizel, founder and chief executive of Pride 365.

There is a fixation on wanting to appear a diverse company with an inclusive environment, without doing any of the work. It’s an attempt by companies to cut corners and avoid investing in the long, and sometimes uncomfortable, D&I process. Signing public pledges is an empty gesture if it isn’t backed by action. So instead of making grand statements, companies should focus on work behind the scenes. D&I in the workplace shouldn’t be viewed as a potential PR opportunity, but something that will benefit the company as a whole. D&I is for everyone. As Mally concludes: “A shift in perspective to an understanding that a fair, equitable and diverse workplace will ultimately benefit all of us is absolutely essential for D&I work to be fruitful.”