COVID + BLM = Time to get REAL about diversity & inclusion

Our world has been turned upside down. Uncertainty exists in our organisations and our personal lives. NEVER has there been a time when it is more urgent for organisations to leverage the voices of all of their people—across genders, generations, cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds—we need the wild idea, we need people to speak up, the way we have always done things is not going to cut it. It will not create the innovative thinking organisations need to pull themselves out of this dark period and survive and thrive in a reinvented format into the future! Creating an inclusive culture where we are curious, where we challenge group think and the way things have always been done and where we live and breath a growth mindset: that’s the charter of an organisation that will smash through this mess and come back fighting!

Organisations will no longer get away with a tick box approach to D&I

In the past leaders and organisations have proudly shouted about how good they are at diversity & inclusion. They have won awards; they have run big PR orientated events (the ‘cupcake’ party or the ‘samosa’ party as I like to call them!). The truth however is that much of the rhetoric does not match the reality. My observation is that world events is challenging the ‘PR’ approach to diversity and inclusion, employees want to see authenticity and they will challenge an approach which does not tackle the real issues. In an era of BLM and ‘Me Too’ I also believe that there is now a greater legal risk in ‘pretending’. Is there a risk to the organisation if CEO’s and senior leaders are making big bold statements about how inclusive they are? What if that is not the experience of individuals in the organisation? Worse still what if an employee experiences damages because of the impact of ‘exclusion’?

Will new flexible work practices become the norm?

In terms of flexible work – I believe we need to get very intentional about embedding the new ways of working into our future. That means actually having a conversation and communicating this broadly throughout the business. I hear lots of leaders say things like ‘I wonder what will happen. I wonder if it will go back to the way it was?’ We need to stop the speculation and create clarity. We have fought hard for more flexible working arrangements for decades and the argument has always been that for many (if not most) roles it didn’t work….then COVID happened, and we waved a magic wand and it worked! People didn’t goof off, they were productive, and they were able to ‘have a life as well.’ We need to get intentional about creating an environment where a blended approach and options are the way we do things around here.

What is the biggest inclusive leadership skill leaders need right now?

I think the skill that leaders need to build is Courageous Curiosity. Often I hear leaders say, ‘I can’t ask about that, it’s too personal!’ or ‘If she had an issue, it’s up to her to tell me, I don’t want to intrude.’ I think that leaders need to build their courage muscles and when they suspect someone is struggling, they need to respectfully and authentically ask. They need to show that individual that they care, that is at the heart of creating a sense of belonging. We have all had an experience of going through tough times and we have worked through it with the zip smile on our faces. BUT we always remember with heartfelt gratitude the colleague or the boss who noticed that we were not quite ourselves, and bothered to ask! We want people to notice us as individuals and we want to feel like someone cares.

Women are often baring the family brunt of looking after everyone at home as a result of the pandemic, BUT they are hiding it. They want top present as fully capable, on top of it and they don’t want to risk their positions and jobs. As a leader, you need to ask her. You need to go there. And you need to look past the token responses by showing her that it’s okay to NOT be coping with all that’s going on and that you value her and her contribution!

Has the crisis impacted the D&I spend of many organisations?

Unfortunately I have found that a very large majority of organisations have seen D&I as non priority during crisis so many programs and initiatives have been stopped.

I think this hasn’t been thought through properly because leveraging all of our people is exactly what organisations need right now to increase engagement, innovation, collaboration and productivity. The big golden key to that is INCLUSION.

How will D&I be defined and what will it look like in a post-COVID world?

I am hoping that leaders will be okay with greater vulnerability and realising that they are perhaps not as inclusive as they think they are and claim to be. A leader who has a growth mindset and wants to learn and knows they don’t know everything about difference and creating a sense of belong for an individual – that leader is way more likely to success at being inclusive than the leader who claims they get this and they are the expert!!

Look, pre-pandemic we have been spending around $8 billion per year on D&I training – and it’s not working. My hope is that organisations say STOP to the great big global group think approach to D&I which gets no results. I hope that they start to test and try other approaches that are about personal accountability for taking action and experimenting and proving that as an individual I am walking the walking. I think the future is about evidence of bottom line impact fast – which is what we are doing with our new program The INCLUSION habit – challenging leaders to document experiments, embedding the 6 habits of being inclusive and measuring the impact of these actions on the inclusion enablement wheel.

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