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IWD 2023: Preventing tokenism in diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy

In 2022, when contemplating International Women’s Day (IWD), I felt compelled to do more to improve women’s equity and equality. I decided to apply to and then accept a new role as Hitachi Vantara’s first Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer.

In honour of IWD 2023, I encourage organisations working on their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies to actively avoid tokenism.

Clarity on the meaning of diversity, equity, and inclusion

Hiring diverse talent will ensure a workforce is made up of people from a variety of different backgrounds with different ways of thinking. This can greatly benefit the business; however, a diverse workforce does not automatically ensure equity or inclusivity.

To achieve equity, a business must ensure fair treatment, access, and potential for advancement for each employee. Employees can experience the same workplace differently, so the business must respond to needs and challenges that are specific to individuals.

An inclusive company is one that has created a culture that genuinely values, accepts, and supports individuals, encouraging them to share unique experiences and opinions so they can understand and learn from one another. An inclusive workplace avoids stereotyping and encourages employees to collaborate across social boundaries, allowing people to develop regardless of identity or circumstance.

To go beyond tokenism, an organisation’s DEI efforts must address all three at once with actions, policies, and procedures to enact real change.

Inclusion is everybody’s business

The daily actions and behaviours of every individual within an organisation contribute to company culture. Whilst HR and the leadership team can certainly champion inclusion, building an inclusive culture is everybody’s responsibility.

Being curious and interested in the perspectives of others can help us learn new skills and expand our minds. It is incredibly important to foster a supportive environment where people feel comfortable to share their stories. If a team leader or colleague talks about something they are proud of, it can be inspirational. If they share worries, insecurities, and failures it can make others less concerned about appearing vulnerable, which can help them learn and grow. Getting to know colleagues leads to opportunities for building empathy, which is essential to creating an inclusive culture. Research suggests organisations that allow people to be their authentic selves are truly inclusive.

To have an accurate understanding of the current state of play, a company must assess whether employees feel the workplace, its management and HR practices are inclusive. They can then take targeted action to close identified gaps, such as updating policies and practices to facilitate opportunities for all employees to have a say and participate in decision-making.

Noticing and calling out unconscious bias embedded in workplace processes, such as performance measurement and recognition, are necessary to rooting it out. Sometimes uncomfortable conversations are required.

At Hitachi Vantara, we have conducted sentiment surveys and set up working groups to gain an in-depth understanding of our needs. In my role as Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, gaining input from others around me is critical. I regularly attend employee resource group (ERG) meetings to hear from people first-hand. We’ve made changes to policies and introduced learning opportunities based on ERG feedback. We’ve analysed key people processes for bias and continue to review the data we capture to measure progress.

We have partnered with The Equality Institute to lead allyship and inclusion sessions and invite external speakers to share their life experiences and stories on a monthly basis.

HR: seize opportunities to promote DEI

In addition to ensuring hiring is diverse, talent development is equitable, training is accessible, and the benefits offered to all employees are inclusive, HR can make a difference through employee communication.
Facilitating confidential feedback, speaking up against non-inclusive behaviours, and developing progressive business plans all contribute to an inclusive culture and systemic change. Ensuring the business communicates to employees about these efforts and related results solidifies each step the business takes.

Following the gathering of input and information, HR and corporate/internal communications teams must ensure the business communicates to employees about actions to be taken or why no action is to be taken. When people share feedback, they need to feel heard, or they will be less motivated to contribute.

Technology is a facilitator but must be managed

Companies can take an evidence-based, data-driven approach to employee engagement measurement using digital surveys – which, themselves, are examined for potential and unconscious bias. Automating the annual deployment and analysis of such surveys can simplify the process and ensure timely reporting back to the employee base. Applying analytics to existing employee engagement data can also help to uncover barriers to inclusivity.

Storytelling and the proactive sharing of experiences across all levels of a company can promote inclusivity. Creating opportunities for this, both in person and virtually through effective use of collaboration tools or even creating digital spaces for both formal and informal communication, can raise common levels of understanding, empathy, and inclusion.

Automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning are transforming how we work, which presents a significant opportunity to assess processes, decisioning and policies for bias and inequality. It is critical that old biases are not baked into AI algorithms and when ramping up automation.

Measure to combat tokenism

People who feel recognised as different but equal and able to be their true selves are highly motivated, provided they feel trusted and accepted by their peers. Recent research has highlighted the importance of inclusion on outcomes such as job commitment, performance, innovation, and creativity.

It’s not enough to track the number of different types of people a business hires. When assessing the success of efforts toward a more inclusive company culture, incorporate measurements of employee engagement, motivation, feelings of acceptance, commitment to the business, perspectives on innovation, and factor in performance improvements. By measuring success against these more meaningful parameters, and taking action to close the gaps, your DEI strategy can create a motivating environment where people can do their best work.

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