Building diversity has been and will continue to be a priority for HR pros in the years to come.
As companies continue to prioritize diverse representation in leadership and employment in general, these pros will need to look to their compliance colleagues down the hall for help in accomplishing diversity initiatives –especially as regulatory pressure mounts on HR teams to deliver.
In August, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted a new listing rule from the Nasdaq Stock Exchange (NSE) requiring all companies that trade on Nasdaq to have at least two diverse representatives (one minority, one woman) on the board or explain why the company doesn’t. That’s a testament to current business priorities.
While some may question how regulating board diversity will help a business solve its problems, one could also ask, “how could it not?” With no shortage of headlines reporting on corporate misconduct rooted in sexist, racist or other tone-deaf corporate culture, embedding diversity within a company’s board – or C-suite, management and all employees for that matter – can prevent executives from becoming blind to bad practices and/or toxic organizational culture.
Still not convinced? According to a Deloitte study S&P 500 firms’ boards, 82.5% of directors were white and 73.5% were male. However, a Pew Research Center report focused specifically on Generation Z found that 52% are white and more than half are female. This creates a compelling argument for organizations to build diversity within leadership and to include diverse voices at every level.
With the emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) growing, here are three strategies to build these programs successfully.
Define diversity-specific initiatives
A common challenge for compliance and HR professionals is defining the organization’s diversity and inclusion objectives. Organizations that focus on compliance with only the bare minimum regulatory requirements often do more harm than good. This approach is more likely to breed cynicism than to build and support a strong corporate culture. Employees will recognize hollow gestures for what they are.
Instead, compliance and HR teams should partner with senior executives and directors to address questions like, “What do we want to achieve for diversity, regulations aside?” “How would our core ethical values shape what our diversity objectives should be?” “What are the obstacles that we need to overcome?” To be effective, though, these discussions also need to involve key organizational influencers beyond the executive team. By answering these questions and clearly defining objectives, it’s easier to act and earn buy-in from the organization.
Track and report data
Once diversity goals have been set, organizations can more easily set measurable goals, collect data and report on progress.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires employers who have at least 100 employees, and federal contractors who have at least 50 employees, to submit an EEO-1 Report each year. As a result, many companies are already tracking diversity data, including ethnicity, race and gender.
Because EEO-1 reports aren’t publicly available from the EEOC, companies can choose to disclose this data or not. There are pros and cons to sharing this data more broadly. But corporate leaders are still responsible for transparency about diversity. Whether they allow employees more visibility into their diversity reporting or support them through honest practices and intentions, initiatives should be clear and present. This way, employees feel seen, valued and supported throughout the organization.
Foster a Speak-up culture
It is important to remember that diversity isn’t the same as inclusion. If an organization is diverse, but employees fear retaliation or policies aren’t enforced, employees can’t contribute the most value to their company.
While creating a speak-up culture doesn’t happen overnight, it should be a high priority to build diversity. To facilitate the process, train the first and middle management level where complaints about employee behaviors are typically raised. Teach them how to recognize a concern and the resources that are available to address it. It’s interesting to note: Many organizations identify front-line managers as the first resource for employees with concerns. Yet, few give managers the tools and support they need to address concerns.
To further illustrate a commitment to speaking up, leading compliance and HR teams adopt multiple reporting mechanisms beyond the managers. That can ensure that employees have a choice to go where they are most comfortable. These include HR, compliance, legal, and a whistleblower hotline where employees can anonymously (if they prefer) report misconduct. In tandem, teams should prioritize clear and consistent investigation protocols to ensure a fair, objective investigation process. That’s especially true when people raise diversity issues.
Tone from the top also applies here. There can’t be special rules for special people. Success requires consistent responses, discipline and strong communication from the top down. Leaders need to exhibit the behaviors they would like to see in their speak-up culture. If employees don’t see the right behaviors emulated throughout leadership, these processes won’t stick.
Future of success
Corporate culture has been under a microscope as companies increasingly push to be more diverse, inclusive and equitable. As a result, compliance and diversity teams are expected to drive and facilitate a fair and emotionally safe workplace. Improving diversity and inclusion in any organization is a work-in-progress. But now more than ever, a strong partnership between HR and compliance is critical to success.