5 top tips to avoid commitment drift

Is your organisation’s DEI strategy losing direction? Suzanne Zudiker shines a light on how L&D can get it back on track

A lot of progress has been made in the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) space over the last 12 months. But, in the face of recession fears, rising inflation and post-pandemic supply chain disruption, there is a danger of 2023 becoming the year of commitment drift. However, with the right approach, it is possible for training professionals to maintain a proactive and ongoing commitment to DEI without breaking the bank.

Although we would all like to believe that the racial justice commitments of 2020 will hold up – including their impact on diverse hires – and the creation of diversity and inclusion (D&I) roles will stand the test of time, there is some scepticism. The reality, as we embark on a new year, is that there are already signs that companies are putting what they view as core business in the centre of their 2023 strategy – not their employees.  

What’s worse, a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that women and minorities are disproportionately affected. Companies see a 9-22% reduction in white and Hispanic women, as well as a dip in Black, Hispanic and Asian men, on their management teams when they cut positions.

There are some simple, practical ways training professionals can keep their company accountable for its proactive and ongoing commitment to DEI

Huge mistake

As individuals, it is a very human tendency to revert to old habits and unconscious biases during times of pressure – especially stressful layoffs – which poses major risks on a macro level for organisations across all industries. A recent study by Deloitte has made it clear that performative commitments, such as an increased representation of non-dominant employees and short-lived programming, can create workforce distrust and lead to a decrease in retention. This is reflected in worker perception. Nearly 40% of total respondents – including 41% of ethnically or racially diverse respondents and 50% of LGBTQIA+ respondents – also believed that this commitment drift is likely to happen.

Another study, by Weber Shandwick, notes that 28% of respondents would stop doing business with a company that treats its employees poorly, and 25% would stop if the company did not commit to DEI. And new research from Glassdoor indicates that a pullback from D&I programmes will dissuade young talent seeking employment from those particular firms. The last thing that any company needs, especially in difficult times, is a public scandal or backlash for, quite literally, not putting their money where their mouth is and upholding promises made to their employees, customers and communities. A recession is not the time to dip out of the D&I conversation, it is the time to double down – strategically, of course – to ensure that your non-dominant team members know how much you value them.

Stay the course

But a little goes a long way and there are some simple, practical ways training professionals can keep their company accountable for its proactive and ongoing commitment to DEI – without breaking the bank.

1. Implement a commitment scorecard to ensure that promises are kept

A report published by Harvard University says, at times, companies don’t keep their stakeholder commitments simply because keeping them is harder than it originally seemed. Alternatively, when leaders have a strong plan, systems and processes in place, they are more likely to make good on their word. The commitment scorecard has three simple steps to keep senior leaders in line. It suggests taking a promise inventory, tracking the measures over three months – including an employee survey – and setting a meeting to review the scorecard and plan moving forward. 

2. Educate your leaders on inclusive performance reviews

Remind leaders facing layoff decisions that performance reviews including job cuts are based on just that – performance. Providing them with the right tools and training on how to have career discussions, as well as giving them a little nudge when it’s time to make the tough decisions, can ensure that – if they have to decide who to let go – it’s being done fairly.

3. Communicate with your team

Managers and D&I leaders can hold listening sessions and provide resources on mental health that can support their employees during difficult times. In addition, middle managers can have a powerful influence on associates and individual contributors. If given the proper tools and training, middle managers can be empowered to continue having conversations on topics such as minimising micro-aggressions or building team inclusion. 

4. Tie bonuses and opportunities for promotion to DEI commitments

It costs almost nothing to implement a simple new policy. Increasing diversity on teams can include hiring, promotion and upward mobility. If that is tough for your managers in the current climate, focus on inclusion. That can be anything from creating a psychologically safe space for all employees to feel included to implementing a no-interruption rule in meetings or asking for 360° feedback and being open to hearing how they can manage that team or individual in the way that works best for them.

5. Leverage technology

Last year a lot of companies rolled out obligatory and quite box-ticking unconscious bias training, often with little engagement – and leaders walked away thinking: “There, we did it. Our team now knows that we are all biased in some way and now we are collectively in a state of awareness about our behaviour.” But basic change management principles make it clear that change comes from consistent reinforcement over time – and doing the work on inclusion is not exempt from that. Since digital content is infinitely scalable, training professionals should consider implementing digital inclusion content into learning management systems or providing access to an external resource – giving employees a path and opportunity to learn more in their own time.

Suzanne Zudiker, a global inclusion consultant at diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global

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