Amidst a rapidly evolving social consciousness, today’s employees expect a more diverse and inclusive working environment. In Glassdoor’s 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Study, 54 percent of UK workers said that their companies should do more to increase diversity and inclusion (D&I). And it’s not just employees who feel this way — many large, well-known employers do too.
“Without inclusion, diverse talent cannot thrive, innovation cannot happen, unique ideas and perspectives will remain untapped and the organisation ultimately misses out on the opportunity to grow further,” says Melissa Whiting, VP of Inclusion & Diversity at Philip Morris International (PMI). “Differences are what makes life interesting and inspiring; [today’s employees] want a melting pot of ideas and experiences. They don’t want everyone to be the same, because then what is there to learn?”
The problem is, at many organisations, D&I efforts are often informal or de-prioritised. As a result, little concrete progress is made. One solution to address this problem? Hiring a Head of Diversity & Inclusion — a full-time employee whose entire role is dedicated towards increasing D&I.
Why Invest in a Head of Diversity & Inclusion?
You might be wondering: Why should we hire a Head of Diversity & Inclusion when we can just have our existing talent acquisition and human resource teams ramp up their D&I efforts? Well, for one, when spread amongst multiple stakeholders who are not strictly goaled against it, D&I can often end up pushed to the way side.
“Diversity & Inclusion are the responsibility of everyone in a company, and we all have a role to play, starting by thinking differently and being more inclusive every step of the way. Nevertheless, we know that having a leader who drives the initiatives more cohesively and embodies our program, highlights the importance of the topic as an imperative for the company and supports us on this journey” is critical, says Boubacar Sidibé, Group Diversity Director at Capgemini. “The Diversity & Inclusion lead is helping to set the direction, give focus, share best practises and [make] the collective effort that much greater than the individual parts.”
Aylin Halil, Senior Manager of Global People Brand & Attraction at ARM, agrees.
“We have found that having a dedicated person gives momentum and provides visibility, internally and externally,” Halil says.
At PMI, for one, this role isn’t seen as optional — it’s an imperative.
“Having a dedicated position (or team) demonstrates internally and externally how important diversity and inclusion is to the business. It’s not a ‘nice to have’; It’s a business priority,” Whiting adds. “Although much of the work of being inclusive is ultimately done by everyone everyday — especially HR teams and people managers — it’s valuable to have a team with the dedicated responsibility to identify barriers to inclusion and recommend actions, processes and interventions to help remove them.”
What Does a Head of Diversity & Inclusion Do?
Each company is unique, and as such, diversity and inclusion priorities will be different from one firm to another. But there are a number of innovative and impactful projects and initiatives that a Head of Diversity & Inclusion can take on. For some organisations, that might include reducing unconscious bias in the hiring process.
“As you can’t eradicate bias, at Arm we are working closely with our hiring communities to help raise awareness of and mitigate their own bias. We recently launched a programme incorporating workshops, gamification and tools like Textio, a software used to identify the gender tone in written content, which hiring managers now use when writing job adverts,” Halil says.
For others, it could mean creating a greater sense of belonging in the workplace. Grant Thornton, for example, have created a team of Inclusion Allies who help create a more welcoming day-to-day environment.
Inclusion Allies “look out for and tackle the everyday behaviours that unintentionally exclude others and make it ok for people to ask questions and be better informed,” says Jenn Barnett, Director of Diversity & Inclusion and Wellbeing at Grant Thornton. “Sometimes, we don’t always know the right words to use when speaking about the experiences of a group that we don’t understand. Sometimes the fear of not getting it exactly right holds us back from doing anything. Inclusion Allies will ensure that it’s ok for everyone to ask questions to better understand their differences.”
What Makes a Great Head of Diversity & Inclusion?
Finding the right candidate to be your company’s Head of Diversity & Inclusion can be challenging — you want to find the right mixture of head and heart, strategy and empathy, leadership and empowerment. The companies we spoke to shared a few different qualities they thought firms should look out for when hiring a D&I head. One common trait that emerged: being a doer, not just a thinker.
“They need to be a collaborative listener, someone that naturally brings people together to campaign for the same objective. Naturally they need to be resilient and a strong negotiator, but ultimately, they need to be action-oriented,” Halil says.
Boubacar agrees: “To succeed, the Head of Diversity & Inclusion should have a keen ability to drive changes: to transform, align and inspire in a fast-paced environment. Not afraid to challenge the status quo and providing a long-term vision, a Head of Diversity & Inclusion should be a critical member of the HR Leadership Team and trusted adviser to the Executive team.”
Another important quality is the ability to simultaneously take responsibility of the programme but also empower others to create the change needed in the workplace.
“I think the Head of D&I needs to be someone who can enable others to take ownership for inclusion and ensure everyone feels they have a responsibility for improvement,” Barnett says. “They need to be able to think systemically — enabling culture change is a complex agenda and it needs to be considered holistically… There are so many people who are passionate and it’s about harnessing that passion and encouraging everyone to be involved.”
And of course, a Head of D&I needs the right balance of soft and hard skills.
“A passion for equality and fairness, for connecting with people, understanding their different stories and supporting them to reach their full potential — particularly those with odds stacked against them — is at the heart of inclusion and diversity,” Whiting says, but “passion and interest is not enough; you also need strong advocacy and influencing skills, the ability to collaborate across different functions, the ability to analyse data and problem solve and to develop a plan to address gaps and drive for results.”
When Should You Hire a Head of Diversity & Inclusion?
There is no one moment when your organisation needs to hire a Head of Diversity & Inclusion — rather, you must assess the current state of your D&I programme and identify goals, Barnett says.
“Start with your business and work out what it is you want to achieve culturally to enable your business to be successful and then review your own diversity data to see where you are strong and weaker in areas of diversity,” Barnett recommends. “It takes energy to gain momentum around D&I and it needs board commitment and business readiness before it can be successful.”
At that point, you also need to decide whether hiring a Head of D&I would help you reach those goals, as well as if it would be the best move for the business right now.
“I think the most important thing is for companies to assess why they want to hire a head of D&I; what is their business case? There must be true buy-in from company leadership,” Whiting says. “In the early stages, they may not be clear on the ‘what’ and the ‘how,’ but they need genuine commitment and an understanding of the ‘why.’”
Creating a formal diversity and inclusion programme and then hiring someone to lead it is a big investment, but if your company has reached the point where it makes sense to double down on D&I, it can be well worth it.
“By investing in D&I, companies are doing the right thing. Not only do your employees feel happy, but it also allows them, and your company, to thrive,” Boubacar summarises.