Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives That Actually Work

Diversity and Inclusion may have found their way onto the agendas of business conferences and board meetings, but awareness is merely the first step in creating a truly inclusive workplace culture.

Blockchain. Disruption. Big Data. Bleeding Edge. These are a small sample of the hundreds of trendy buzzwords and topics du jour we’ve all grown accustomed to hearing in our meetings, at the conferences we attend, and in the news. But over the last several years, Diversity and Inclusion have become immutable staples on the agenda.

The problem is we often talk about issues like gender equality, inclusive culture, and work-life balance in general ways, stressing their importance without discussing actionable steps to improve the quality of employees’ lives.

 Before we can even begin to determine how to improve the diversity of our workforce or improve workplace culture, we have to understand what we really mean by “Diversity” and “Inclusion.” At FEI’s Current Financial Reporting Issues conference, KPMG’s Executive Director, Diversity and Inclusion Barbara Wankoff explained, “Diversity is about individuals and their backgrounds and perspectives. Often, when we think about Diversity, we’re thinking about the numbers of representation. Inclusion is about the environment and about all of us together creating that environment to making somebody feel welcomed and valued and that they belong.”

Wankoff says there’s a debate on whether Diversity drives Inclusion or the other way around. “If you bring diverse populations in the door and don’t have an inclusive environment, they tend not to stay. You may have achieved your hiring goals but not necessarily have long-term diverse representation. If you create an inclusive environment and then focus on those recruiting goals, the likelihood is you’ll have a better retention of that population.”

Wankoff and fellow panelist Ann Sarnoff, President of BBC Studios – Americas, discussed various hiring initiatives with a focus on Diversity as well as retention initiatives that embrace Inclusion.

 “You have to expand your recruiting beyond your own contact list,” Sarnoff said. “That’s like 101 in that regard. If you’re only looking for people whom you know or friends of friends, etcetera, they’re all going to end up being pretty similar to you if not in looks, in mindset.” Sarnoff says it’s about tapping into different pools of potential employees and using professionals to help access those different groups.

“It starts with a conscious effort and where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Wankoff agreed that recruiting is a big part of improving Diversity, but once you’ve brought in a diverse workforce, it’s imperative that you retain them, develop them, and advance them in an inclusive environment. Wankoff says that’s the primary reason that people stay with an organization. “They see that they have a future there and they’re continuing to grow.”

Sponsorship is one way to show employees that their growth is top of mind. But simply encouraging higher-level employees to mentor new or younger employees is not enough. “Very often, people mentor people who are like them,” said Wankoff. “They provide that coaching, just simple tips and adjustments that people can make along the way. And what we’ve found, often, is that those underrepresented professionals are not getting those same kinds of off-the-cuff, informal coaching.” That’s why she says that, if effective mentorship is not happening naturally, companies need to create opportunities for people to get that development.

“We have a whole host of development programs for that underrepresented talent where we do bring them together, develop skills, create opportunities for them to network and have visibility to our leadership, which will ultimately lead to mentoring and sponsoring relationships.”

Sarnoff said that, at her organization, their program is not quite as structured, but the emphasis on coaching and healthy discussion is evident. “We don’t have quite as structured a program, but we certainly offer coaching for anybody who needs development. We are very good about giving and receiving feedback and having development plans and having annual objectives. You can’t evolve if you don’t have good feedback.”

“All of our people have an inclusion and diversity goal. It’s baked into our performance process,” says Wankoff. “That being said, our people have a lot of goals and I think that the accountability comes down to where in the priorities does this goal fall and to what kind of rigor are we holding people accountable for those goals? Are they on equal footing as, say, the revenue goals? We’re working on that.”

No matter how many initiatives we put in place, there will always be blind spots. That’s why Wankoff says KPMG is focused on providing training to employees on unconscious bias. “The strategies to mitigate bias are to solve problems as a team and give people permission to, and a language to call out those unconscious biases when you see them.

We’re also looking at our processes and systems and putting strategies in place to mitigate bias where they’re most likely to occur: really almost any ‘people decisions.’ So, whether it’s at the point of hire, or the point of assessments, points of promotion. And so just put those steps in place, whether that’s a checklist, asking the question ‘do we see any potential bias here? What might have contributed to that bias?’, and then how do we overcome it.”

Sarnoff says BBC Studios also has unconscious bias training and respect in the workplace training modules. "And then it’s about taking it from the module to the everyday behaviors and making sure that people feel heard and respected and listened to."