While the discussion of diversity and its business benefits has been on the agenda at many companies, others find that getting traction for Diversity and Inclusion feels like an uphill battle. It is great when the push comes from the top, but more often the initiative is a grassroots effort raised by employees, employee networks, or HR. For those companies, the group(s) addressing D&I eventually find their progress is limited until the leadership team is onboard. They need to host a conversation with their leaders in order to gain support, resources, and championship. When a clear connection to business priorities is established, it is easier to get the attention of leaders.
The first place people usually look for evidence of business relevance is externally. Leveraging the spirit of competition, you can present information on how your competitors are addressing D&I to pique the interest of your leaders. The next logical step is to begin your research to establish a “Business Case for D&I”. There is no shortage of articles and data on the reasons to invest in D&I. The incentive of improved performance is accompanied by pressure to increase the representation of people from underrepresented groups at all levels of the company. This pressure comes from customers, investors, employees and an increasingly diverse talent pool. In today’s business environment, the reputation of your company is impacted by the diversity of your leadership
How do you bring this all together in a compelling case that gets your leaders’ attention and expands their awareness of the opportunity? Many conversations begin by validating D&I using the research conducted by reputable business analysts. Find the hook that is most relevant to your business goals and performance:
While the objectivity and credibility of these reports are important, we recommend that you don’t go overboard on preparing this external business case. We have never seen a leadership team decide to invest in D&I due to this data, but it does grab attention and leads to important discussion. Choose judiciously which points to include from the vast research done on this topic. Think carefully about what priorities are on your company’s agenda and align the data points accordingly. There are many facts that are interesting and insightful but data overload can cause eyes to glaze over.
Eventually, during the discussion, someone will push back on the relevance of external research or decide to debate correlation versus causation. This highlights the importance of beginning to build an INTERNAL business case. Leaders who are not motivated by external data have been compelled to action with internal employee data that link inclusion to performance indicators and their own business goals. This is not a quick item to check off your to-do list.It requires careful thought, analysis, data collection, and analysis.
One cost-effective and efficient approach is to start with a diagnostic employee survey that links inclusion with performance indicators. An analysis of how inclusion correlates with performance metrics such as engagement, team effectiveness, and retention will provide you with the data to demonstrate the value of inclusion in your own organizational context and how that translates into benefits for your leadership team and the broader organisation. With this data, you have the foundations for your own internal business case for inclusion. You can address the real issues your employees are facing and monitor your progress on key inclusion and performance metrics.
As the commitment of leaders strengthens, you can gain support for identifying and testing hypotheses with more robust people analytics and experimentation. One of the best examples of this approach is research conducted and published by Sodexo.
After reviewing external research on the financial benefits of gender balanced leadership, Sodexo set out to investigate both financial and non-financial indicators as outcome of gender balance in their own organisation. Sodexo’s research demonstrated that management teams have optimal outcomes when women comprised 40-60% of the team. The study found that teams managed by a balanced mix of men and women were more successful across a wide range of outcomes. Operating margins, client and employee retention, employee engagement, safety, and other key performance indicators were all higher among teams that had gender-balanced management compared to teams with gender-imbalanced management. And, even more importantly, because this was a longitudinal study, they could demonstrate that the more positive outcomes were sustained over time for the gender-balanced teams.
Other companies have also reported that connecting inclusion to their leaders’ business agenda is driving commitment, championship, and accountability measures for inclusion. While the research has not been published, we have worked with clients who analyses revealed strong business links. One company’s data showed that teams with higher engagement scores had higher customer satisfaction scores. Another company with a strong value of safety showed that teams with higher engagement had stronger safety performance. And, has been previously demonstrated, inclusion is a driver of engagement.
So, one of my favorite sayings is: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” In this context, don’t worry if your internal business case isn’t as strong as it could be when you are getting started. Start with external data to get your leaders attention and create awareness around the opportunities that inclusion can bring to the business. Then, as you build your data collection and programming approaches, keep an eye on how you can gather the insights that will link your employees’ experiences with inclusion to business outcomes that matter.