D&I: The missing link

Grace McLoughlin argues that line managers are key to unlocking your D&I strategy.

Although D&I initiatives usually originate with, and are driven by, the HR department, line managers operate at the coalface of company practice and culture. With significant influence over the professional experiences and outcomes of their team, line managers are determining agents in whether an organisation’s D&I strategy and culture will thrive or fail.

It is therefore crucial that they receive sufficient guidance, support and training on how D&I practices can benefit their team and enhance their results.

Line managers are uniquely placed with direct oversight and authority over their team’s activities and dynamics; they can take direct action to nip negative behaviours and attitudes in the bud. As the usual first point of contact for a problem or grievance, line managers significantly influence the outcome, and, indeed, the likelihood of disclosure in the first place.

Their behaviour, attitudes, and language have a substantial impact on how included their team members feel and the degree to which they understand diversity to be valued at work.

Why develop understanding of D&I in line managers?

Over recent years, diversity and inclusion has become a business imperative as well as a moral responsibility. Recent societal conversations about diversity and inclusion have influenced employee and consumer expectations, and research has shown a marked link between employee engagement and business performance.

Inclusive business practices are designed to ensure that employee belonging and commitment is enhanced, while action to support diversity seeks to ensure that all current and prospective employees receive an equal opportunity to succeed and shine.

Inclusive managerial practices are key to achieving this; they build psychological safety and trust within teams, which in turn stimulates commitment, cohesion and creativity.

Line managers require the following skills and insight to be able to confidently support their organisation’s D&I agenda:

  • Understanding of the business case for diversity and inclusion, and their role in advancing D&I within their team and organisation
  • Ability to challenge discrimination and difficult behaviours
  • Skills and confidence to handle sensitive conversations
  • Cultural and emotional intelligence, to bring out the best of team members of different personalities and backgrounds
  • Support in hiring diversely and understanding how bias can become embedded in recruitment and reward processes
  • Understanding of how to effect positive culture change which will enable all team members to feel included and engaged.

There is a difference between having an aim and knowing how to achieve it, however. Line managers are often technical experts, who were given people management responsibilities as a result of promotion. If their technical portfolios were expanded, guidance and support would be given so there is no reason why people management should be treated any differently.

Without the proper training or guidance, D&I targets can sometimes appear as a distraction or additional pressure for line managers, rather than a vital tool which can help them to unlock wellbeing, cooperation and trust within their teams.

For these reasons, support which will empower line managers in their roles and provide them with tools and prompts for reflection and self-awareness in their positions of influence, is key.

However, a poll published in January 2019 found that, of 940 managers interviewed, 61% had neither received diversity and inclusion (D&I) training nor had any such training in the last 12 months.

Furthermore, the CIPD found in their 2016-17 Winter Report that, where line managers had taken on new people management responsibilities devolved from the HR function, fewer than half (44%) had been given any formal training and only three in five (60%) were given ongoing tailored support.

Similarly, in the CIPD’s 2020 Health and Wellbeing at Work report line managers were found to be the second most significant cause of work-related stress. (The top cause was workload – another line management-related issue.)

Creating coherence between people strategies and people managers

If action is not taken to improve these statistics, businesses, managers and employees are all losing out on better outcomes – not to mention the HR and D&I teams who meticulously curate their organisation’s D&I data, goals and objectives.

People professionals must therefore concentrate on creating cohesion between their organisation’s D&I values and strategy, and their front-line delivery team. This means empowering line managers with the guidance and tools they need to develop their teams, and to understand and embody the role, responsibilities and behaviours of an inclusive manager.

On Tuesday, 20th April, Dods D&I will be running their D&I for Line Managers conference. This CPD-certified event is designed to provide crucial support to line managers in the key areas outlined above. Over the course of the day, attendees in London and online will be guided by experienced practitioners and trainers to develop the skills, awareness and insight they need to succeed in their roles and enable their teams to thrive.


About the author

Grace McLoughlin is Content Manager at Dods D&I



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