Equipping managers to embed D&I
By Jo Faragher on 24 May 2023
If there were a silver bullet to solve every diversity and inclusion issue in every business, the job of a D&I professional would be an easy ride. There is one role in the organisation that has the ability to unlock what they do and increase the impact of their work, however – that of the line manager. Yet managers are not being engaged in such a way that this is the case. Research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has found that only a third are taking action in relation to ethnicity pay gap reporting, for example.
“Some of the challenges managers face can boil down to the fact the organisation hasn’t put diversity and inclusion at the forefront of people’s minds,” says KK Harris, executive coach at Talking Talent. “They are not being trained on how to have courageous conversations, and without this education piece there is a problem, because they don’t realise they have their blind spots.” Businesses also shy away from mandating progress with D&I through attaching it to managers’ key performance indicators (KPIs) or performance targets, she adds: “When you do this, you open the door for people to seek understanding, so they can determine who’s working for the team and who is not.”
One of the main issues for managers is lack of time and resource, which is why embedding D&I into everyday aspects of the business – while seemingly overwhelming at first – makes it easier to include in the day job in the longer term. Harris says: “Give managers that lens through continuous discussion around embedding D&I, otherwise they think it’s single initiatives around race or gender.” Working one-to-one with managers can help build empathy, then moving onto group coaching where people can share lived experiences, she advises.
Anthony Painter, director of policy and external affairs at the CMI, agrees that managers and leaders need to approach everyday actions and behaviours through a D&I lens. “They should be accountable for driving inclusivity and equal opportunities, promoting fairness, consistency, and challenging biases,” he says. Outside of D&I knowledge, the CMI estimates that some 80% of managers lack formal management training, “so these ‘accidental managers’ are left to navigate their roles without proper guidance, often resulting in unfavourable outcomes.” The diversity of managers themselves leaves a lot to be desired, furthermore. Painter estimates there are 420,000 missing managers from lower socio-economic backgrounds, 560,000 missing female managers, 290,000 missing managers with disabilities, and 100,000 from diverse ethnic backgrounds. “We are missing out on their enormous potential and we need to step up to maximise talent,” he says.
“The role of managers is crucial in embedding inclusion due to their positions of authority and influence. Managers have the power to shape the culture, policies, and practices of the workplace,” he adds. “By actively promoting and prioritising inclusion, managers can ensure that diverse perspectives are integrated into decision-making processes, leading to better outcomes.” Managers set the tone through their attitudes, behaviours, and actions, which in turn encourages employees to do the same, leading to higher engagement and productivity. One of the ways businesses can support this is through “personalised flexibility”, Painter believes. This is not just about allowing people to work from home but recognising the unique needs of individual employees, “so they can be their best selves both in and outside of work”.
Communication is key
Equipping managers with the tools to communicate better can accelerate their impact with D&I. “Good communication is a two-way street,” says Andrew Jackson, co-founder of coaching tool Rethinkly. “When it goes well, it’s firmly in the process of successfully transmitting information and establishing a shared understanding between two or more people. What we often don’t fully take into account is that communication can be intentional and verbal, but more often than we realise, also unintentional and non-verbal. The exchange can be of thoughts as well as emotions and intentions.” When it comes to discussions about D&I, certain topics can be more difficult to address, which makes the stakes even higher.
“To some, it is a feeling of being understood or having a voice at the table,” he adds. “For others, it is about a sense of knowing they are making a meaningful contribution to the team and that their contribution is acknowledged. Others see inclusion as a measure of their ‘connectedness’ to others in the organisation and about the strength of their relationships. It may be all of these, but it is easy to see how talking about solutions and taking action on inclusion can be challenging unless we know what outcomes we want to achieve. The quality of communication will impact both the discussions about and the feelings around inclusion.” Research by Rethinkly found that 22% of employees thought verbal communication was the hardest part of the job, while at the same time, a quarter of employees felt they had no voice in the workplace. Poor communication can actively contribute towards job satisfaction, its survey found, with 36% believing this to be the case.
Rethinkly’s technology supports organisations to create visualisations that help communication through 3D virtual reality and avatars. This enables people to see situations from different viewpoints, creating new insights and helping them to clarify what to do next. One example is a software development company that used the tool to visually reflect how employees experienced the culture after an employee survey showed low morale levels. The visualisations meant HR and managers could build a plan to address the issues. “If managers could be provided with the support tools and technologies to make their lives easier and to improve their communications capabilities, many of the challenges and early steps that disconnect people could be avoided,” adds Jackson. “Data from these individual engagements would be readily available for a deeper understanding of employee engagement so that HR could connect employee survey data, leaver data, team performance, and manager strengths and then take appropriate action.”
In the tech sector, a positive influence from managers can help overcome challenges the industry faces with unconscious bias and a lack of diversity in the pipeline, says Ashleigh Ainsley, co-founder of Colorintech, an organisation focused on increasing inclusivity in the tech sector. “Sadly, unconscious biases still exist and can influence hiring decisions, performance evaluations, and opportunities for advancement,” he adds. “Addressing the challenges in promoting inclusion and diversity in the tech sector requires a multi-faceted approach that encompasses recruitment, hiring, creating an inclusive work culture, and supporting career advancement. It requires long-term and lifetime commitment from leadership, ongoing training and education, and the establishment of policies and practices that prioritise diversity and inclusion.”
“The actions and conduct of managers can either facilitate or impede the establishment of an inclusive work environment,” he adds. “Through role modelling, managers can demonstrate inclusive behaviours and practices, serving as exemplary figures for their team members. Additionally, they can act as advocates for inclusion by actively promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within the organisation. Managers can champion the importance of inclusive practices, provide unwavering support to diverse employees, and ensure equitable opportunities for professional growth and development.”
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