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Corporate Strategies

3 mistakes you’re making when setting DEI goals…and how to avoid them

General Assembly
July 7, 2022

When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), top global businesses are struggling to bridge the gap between aspirations and actions. They know building a truly inclusive work culture is essential when it comes to social expectations, political trends, and board and shareholder demands. But business leaders also understand the direct correlation between a strong DEI program and attracting–to retain–top diverse talent. So, many businesses have stated their goals and started working toward them. They have established employee resource groups. They have appointed an array of DEI executives. They have made public pledges to elevate diverse employees to the C-Suite level. They have set a timeline for building a more diverse workforce. In short, they have taken the first–and very necessary–steps.

While society is committed to advancing DEI in the workplace, logic and statistics show there is still much work to do–from ensuring better diverse representation to more equitable compensation. Only 4% of companies employ a female chair and a meager 3.2% of executive or senior-level managers at Fortune 500 companies are Black. When you dig into pay disparities, the statistics are even more disconcerting. For every dollar a white male employee makes, Black employees make 62 cents, and Latina employees just 54 cents. The facts, while stark, are hardly surprising. Businesses have been talking about building a more diverse workforce for years, but–for the most part–they have been stuck in neutral, spinning their well-intentioned wheels.

Over the last ten years, we’ve worked with a broad range of businesses that are interested in improving their workforce diversity. Despite the differences in sectors and industries, we’ve noticed a common thread when it comes to moving the needle on DEI goals. Businesses of all shapes, sizes, and stages of growth are inadvertently making the same three DEI mistakes. In the hopes of helping you avoid these pitfalls, we’re sharing these top three DEI business shortcomings . . . and some tips for making progress on your DEI promises.

3 reasons you aren’t meeting your DEI goals & how to do better 

1. Problem: You’re relying on traditional methods of recruitment and hiring

When it comes to diversity, it’s not just our physical differences that make us unique. Diversity of experiences are the foundation for diversity of thought. In a business setting, insights from a variety of points of view and experiences can lead to truly innovative solutions. There is extraordinary value in problem-solving outside siloed thinking. In fact, companies with a higher than average representation of diversity in their workforce had 19% higher innovation revenues.

Between the shrinking talent pool (more wading-than olympic-sized) and the great reshuffling, there are more open positions than talent to fill them. With many employees simply opting out of the workforce altogether, HR professionals are in dire and uncharted territory. Recruiting diverse individuals, especially in technical positions, is proving elusive in today’s bleak employment landscape. Yet, with a subtle shift in mindset, expectations, and approach, it is more than possible.

The days of casting a wide net with a generic job posting and taking your pick from a vast number of qualified candidates have passed. When it comes to sourcing diverse talent, new times, with new challenges, demand a new lens. For starters, when you are defining the criteria for a position, ask yourself what really matters. Is that college degree requirement a must-have or a nice-to-have? Is 5 years’ experience in a corporate setting essential? Or are there other years of experience–say in a military or volunteer capacity–that might similarly equip a candidate with the skills necessary to perform the role and perform it well? In short: consider what factors determine a candidate’s true value.

Many businesses are tapping into non-traditional talent by downgrading the necessity for a formal higher education degree. Some HR professionals are listing these educational requirements as optional or leaving them off of job descriptions altogether. In addition to shifting the focus away from the habit of checking traditional accomplishments off an antiquated criteria list, be sure to equip your leaders with the forward-thinking interview techniques to match this new approach. For instance, coach your leaders on how to identify the skills and experiences that make a great candidate.

Bear in mind, the best candidate is often the candidate you have already recruited. With that in mind, consider partnering with reskilling and upskilling providers like General Assembly to create new opportunities for existing talent. Giving existing employees space to grow their careers typically makes them more committed to growing their careers within your organization. In fact, data from our reskilling and upskilling programs with partners has shown retention rates as high as 91% two years post-program, and 81% 3 years post-program.

When it comes to building a more diverse pool of talent, it’s not an either/or approach, but rather an “and” approach. You can–and should–simultaneously build a pipeline of external talent, reskill existing talent into new tech-focused roles, upskill to advance careers and fill high-impact roles, while also hiring graduates from immersive programs like those offered at General Assembly.

2. Problem: You aren’t putting enough dollars or resources behind your DEI plans

Taking any steps toward building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment are good steps forward. But once you’ve taken the baby steps of installing a DEI leader and launching a number of employee-led employee resource groups, it’s essential that you take the bigger step of committing to an ongoing and evolving program in support of your DEI goals and initiatives. One that is supported by leadership, and a budget. For businesses who are serious about cultivating a true, long lasting, culture of belonging for all individuals, this means investing in DEI training and workshops. To legitimize your program, hire outside experts to share their insights with your employees and ensure that attendance is encouraged from entry level employees to C-suite executives. After all, in order to gain inclusive momentum across the whole business, the whole business needs to be included in the DEI journey.

Another common mistake businesses make is rushing to launch ERGs without having a clearly allocated budget in place to support outputs from those groups. We get it, budgets are tight. But creating a forum for discussing DEI initiatives without providing the means to bring suggestions to fruition has the potential not only to demoralize employees, but cause them to view your DEI actions as performative and not intentional. In addition to making sure ERGs are supplied with a reasonable budget, consider offering a small stipend to your ERG leaders in appreciation of the additional responsibility and work.

3. Problem: Your DEI efforts are led from the middle rather than the top 

Beyond budget, the one thing every successful DEI program needs is executive buy-in. Before you can build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture, every member of the leadership team must believe in it, and be prepared to get behind it. C-suite investment–of time, money, and energy– signals a business’ priorities. 

Think about the ways in which you are bringing DEI into everything, from your recruitment, to upskilling and reskilling, and retention. Then look for ways to get your C-suite leaders involved every step of the way–not just at the finish line. This might look like a regular cadence of internal communications regarding DEI goals and progress–be that during company all-hands or via a regular email check-in. When it comes to those ERGs, make sure that among the volunteers, you have executive representation, and maybe even executive sponsorship. Take the same approach to DEI training and workshops. Executive leaders should not only be present, they should be active and engaged participants. Remember, a team effort to cultivate a truly diverse, inclusive and equitable environment means the whole team needs to get–and stay–involved.

Make a plan to make real DEI progress

At General Assembly, we work with top businesses to diversify their workforces. While we’ve seen that many of our clients are making the same mistakes, we’ve also seen how open and committed they are to finding a better path forward, one that can help them foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture. From creating opportunities for diverse employees to grow their careers rather than grow discontented, to partnering with local communities to nurture diverse tech talent pipelines, we know what it takes to help you attract–and retain–the talent your business needs to thrive.

We’d love to tell you more about how we can tailor a refined approach suited to your specific needs. Feel free to reach out and we can talk more about making a plan to help you make real progress toward cultivating a truly inclusive workplace.

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