How ambition around your DE&I plans drives employee engagement

Hands illustrating diversity

Challenging the organisation to focus on purpose and consider everyone involved can bring all sorts of benefits and Yetunde Hofmann shares how

As many consultancy reports and research pieces have shown over the years, DE&I is integral to organisational success. It drives innovation, creativity, commercial gains, and is also key to winning – and retaining – talent. But sustaining an organisation’s focus and drive around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) plans can sometimes be difficult. Strategies lack direction, progress isn’t measured, and leaders aren’t held accountable for delivering the results they’ve promised to their employees.

We must think beyond the tried-and-tested measures, bottom line results, market share, and other key metrics

To tackle this issue requires HR and business leaders to be ambitious. We must think beyond the tried-and-tested measures, bottom line results, market share, and other key metrics that we often refer to for progress updates. Instead, we should focus on our purpose as an organisation and how far we can go in creating change that genuinely contributes to building a fairer society for our employees, suppliers, and communities. In doing so, we can drive our people’s engagement levels to new heights.

Here’s three reasons why thinking big about DE&I can lead to better engagement.

It creates belonging

When you’re ambitious about your organisation’s DE&I plans, the nature of your communications and long-term strategy changes. The who, what, when and how is fuelled not only by targets and measures to be tracked, but by an innate desire to deliver improvements for those most affected. It centres the human in your human resource strategy and show your employees that genuinely belong and are included in your future vision for the business.

For instance, imagine you are tasked with implementing a new mentorship scheme. An ambitious approach will see HR and L&D leaders setting stretching goals and reaching out to your company’s stakeholders, from your employee resource groups (ERGs) to your most senior leaders, to get their input in shaping the project. Reflecting the diversity of voices, lived experiences, contributions, and influence of those whose interests are entwined in your plan’s success will help in delivering something tailored to the issues your organisation faces, and shows your people that you are serious about driving change.

It’s the same for communicating these projects. What will deliver greater engagement: talking about the numbers, or the lasting impact it could have on your organisation? People don’t want to be associated with a project that is unlikely to make a difference, but they do want to create a legacy and feel they are part of something bigger. When an employee feels that they are part of the fabric of your organisation and that their purpose aligns with your mission, they have the space and confidence to operate at their very best. When everyone is operating at this level, ambitious targets won’t feel out of reach as the pace of and ability to adapt becomes faster. 

It keeps leaders accountable

Many organisations start with good intentions around their DE&I strategies. But competing priorities and timeframes often mean it drops down the to-do list, despite the commercial and cultural value it brings to an organisation. Having ambitious plans prevents leaders from dropping the ball, as they know they are accountable for the results and progress.

Understanding exactly how your role fits into the company’s overall strategy empowers leaders to efficiently execute on their plans and implement the necessary support measures to see them through to the end. From a HR perspective, this could mean equipping your team with membership to external communities to educate them on best practices and role-modelling inclusion and representation in your department. It can also enhance the quality of training for managers, sponsors, and mentors to focus on skills that will enhance the engagement of all employees, such as storytelling, strategy formulation, the impact of wellbeing strategies, and so on.

Celebrating all milestones – no matter how big or small – can also keep your team motivated when times get tough and on the right path when decisions need to be made. Likewise, when mistakes are made, the ambition and accountability ensures that employees don’t lose hope in the plans. They trust that their leaders will do everything to achieve their aims next year and possess the ability to question, to share, and to celebrate whilst ensuring lessons are communicated for all to see. This culture of learning and helpfulness ensures people feel empowered within their work and their ability to speak up without censure.

It fosters trust and love amongst teams

Having love as a foundation allows organisations to stretch themselves in their ambitions and engage their people with respect to their individual strengths, talents, and experiences. As I see it, love is the unconditional acceptance of the self and others. It’s a desire to see the human in everyone and to do the right thing without condition, precisely and solely because it’s the right thing to do.

Adopting love-based leadership is a powerful way to fuel DE&I change. It gives leaders the clarity needed to chart the path ahead, the knowledge of how to get there, and the ability to inspire people to follow you. It also creates an environment of learning and meaningful conversations that forms a foundation for decisions to be made which impact the organisation and its people positively. Everything is done in respect and service of others, meaning that your DE&I ambitions can adapt and thrive regardless of the changes and obstacles you may face.

Overall, it is the business leaders who can see beyond the status quo who will thrive in engaging their employees on the journey to positive change within their organisations. They are the ones who lead with purpose and an intention of legacy, underpinned by love and ambition. In doing so, their people are willing to work together to drive change, equipped with the right training, skills, and behaviours to make a difference.

Yetunde Hofmann is a Portfolio Non-Executive Director; a Board level leadership coach and mentor; global change and inclusion advisor; author of Beyond Engagement; and Founder of the Solaris Executive Leadership Development Academy.

Yetunde Hofmann

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