Making your organisation more diverse and inclusive doesn’t have to begin with a grand strategy.
There is something intimidating about the concept of diversity and inclusion. Not only because it asks you what you truly value, and insists you take a hard look at yourself and the place where you work, but because these days it feels both pervasive and monolithic. So if you’re an HR professional, you might find you can’t escape it even as tackling it feels like too big a task to get started on.
But it doesn’t have to be scary. The Australian HR Institute has recently pushed its diversity and inclusion maturity model into the spotlight. Worked on by its diversity and inclusion advisory committee, which is packed with a who’s who of experts – including people who have worked with LendLease, Coca Cola Amatil and Commonwealth Bank, just to name a few – the model is designed to help organisations understand where they are at , and plan where they want to go. It’s most interesting feature is that it has been created so it can be used by every organisation, from those who’ve just started their journey to those that want to benchmark their sizeable achievements.
HRM spoke to Elizabeth Griffin, head of diversity, inclusion and wellbeing at a top ASX company and member of AHRI’s Diversity and Inclusion advisory committee, about the model’s design and application.
Applicable to everyone
To create a model that is applicable to every type of organisation, regardless of size or sector, you have to find the balance with regards to simplicity. Too much and it won’t help anyone, too little and it will only help a select few.
“What we heard from people is that they don’t want a model that is too complex and too theoretical. Obviously it has to be based on some theory, but it has to be quite practical. So we decided on the three levels, and said let’s get really clear on what those levels are,” says Griffin.
There are three levels of maturity in the model.
- Level one is any organisation that is compliant with the laws around diversity and inclusion.
- Level two is an organisation that has gone beyond compliance and has established at least some D&I programs
- Level three is an organisation that has diversity and inclusion deeply embedded in its culture.
To help people understand and use the levels, the panel came up with four stages that will help frame any strategy: Define, diagnose, design and implement/evaluate. Each has several talking points and practical steps that can be taken.
Nevertheless, it’s a bold decision to conclude that three stages of maturity can cover every organisation. So it’s not surprising to learn there was some discussion in the model’s development about this.
Level one and three are quite clear, says Griffin. The former is a base level, before a real journey has begun, the latter is an indicator that diversity and inclusion has become self-sustaining.
“We did kind of ‘umm and ahh’ about whether we could have a couple [more] levels in there. In the end we said, ‘Level two is quite a wide level, it is about more than just compliance. It is a more strategic approach, but it’s still quite programmatic.’”
To get from level one to level two all you will need to have done is begun some sort of an attempt. The jump can be accomplished with something as simple as a recruitment drive designed to get more diverse employees on board. At the same time, you could have a dozen diversity and inclusion initiatives in all parts of your organisation and you wouldn’t necessarily have moved beyond level two. The difference is in whether or not you rely on those initiatives to drive diversity and inclusion.
A key reason for having level two on such a continuum, says Griffin, is to encourage organisations to not be limited by a formula.
“It’s not like you have to start at one and go through to three. If you have a black swan event, such as COVID-19 or you’ve just gone through a merger, you’ve got the opportunity to really embed diversity and inclusion into the way you do things from a cultural point of view,” she says.
So you could go from being on the lower end of the level two continuum – or even at level one – and rapidly transform into a level three organisation. Similarly, the three levels allow organisations to take into account their own context and dissuades them from pretending that the context of their business doesn’t matter.
“I always say to be really clear about what you want and the investment. So, if you don’t want to put the investment into this, just go with level one. But you’re not going to reap the rewards of a level three organisation if you’re just putting in that effort,” says Griffin.
Another big advantage of the three-level approach is that it discourages a gamified or ranking-focused mindset. You do not want to encourage the behaviours that would lead some organisation to slap “level five D&I company” on its employment branding.
A living model
The two questions a lot of people ask when they hear there is a pinnacle to be reached are, “Are we a level three?” and “So who is a level three?”
But such questions are a little misplaced. Diversity and inclusion is not what its critics claim. It isn’t a symbolic gesture. As much as anything else, it is a value.
Think of it this way. Imagine you were a company that in 2017 had made a radical shift in its culture and prioritised gender diversity. By mid-2020 you had proportional representation across all roles and at every level of seniority. It had gotten to the point that if a team was all-women, or a newly-advertised role only had men applying, people automatically investigated because it seemed odd.
If this was the state of affairs, you might rightly think of yourself as a level three organisation.
Then Black Lives Matter protests erupt across the globe. Lots of people in your organisation look around and realise they have no Indigenous colleagues and very few people in senior leadership aren’t white.
Given the situation, in order to once again ‘achieve’ a level three status, your organisation would need to think about how it could comprehensively embed its new attitude.
“It’s a journey rather than a destination. The context globally, and in our society, keeps changing. Even if you get to level three, you’re constantly evolving your DNA. You are constantly evolving what it means. And just when you think you might be there, something else turns up,” says Griffin
There’s an old joke that goes: if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
If there’s an advantage to a model as flexible as this, it’s that it takes into account that reality rarely lines up with our expectations. It also forefronts the idea that sincerely held values are better than goals. It’s not that there’s an absence of strategy or targets, just an acknowledgment that your beliefs will outlast them.
Griffin says that, at the very least, the way the model has been structured should get people to open up and figure out what they want to do.
“One of the really good things about this model is that it can start a conversation in your organisation with a range of different stakeholders. If nothing else, you can have that discussion: where are we, where do we want to be and what do we need to do to get there?”