Practitioner expertise and stakeholder views are crucial for diagnosing issues and identifying potential solutions, but managers need to combine this with insights drawn from research and organisational data to help them make better-informed decisions and avoid bias from their own opinions. This report is based on an evidence-into-practice programme, which brought together professional expertise on diversity and inclusion (D&I) with insights from scientific research.

Our lines of enquiry came from a group of D&I professionals discussing the challenges they faced in their work and the concerns raised by their stakeholders. Based on these questions, we searched and reviewed the scientific literature.

Diversity management that works: an evidence-based view

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Recommendations and action points for consideration

Having presented the findings of our literature review to our group of D&I professionals, we drew up a set of recommendations based on the research and professional expertise. We also ran an online discussion forum for people professionals from a range of backgrounds and specialisms to gain further insight and test the robustness of our conclusions.

You can explore the top-level recommendations below, and find more detail inside the full report.

1. Think global, act local

Recommendations for multinational organisations to develop effective diversity management strategies and practices:

  • Make sure your global strategy accounts for the local context (local legislation, cultural laws and norms).
  • Hardwire D&I into your values and strategy (celebrate commitment to D&I; provide frameworks to guide behaviour/champion equality).
  • Provide employees working abroad with guidance, resources and support (conduct due diligence on the region; supply guidance packs on cultural values, norms, legislation and behaviours).
  • Evaluate D&I data/outcomes at the local and national level (establish clear metrics/processes to collect/analyse data from each region).

To read more about D&I in different contexts, see pages 6–10 in the full report.

2. Get managers’ buy-in and commitment to D&I

By securing buy-in throughout the organisation, you’re one step closer to making your D&I strategies and practices a success.

  • Secure buy-in from senior managers (employees need to know why D&I is a priority).
  • Make sure senior managers provide adequate resources to support D&I (D&I is a core part of operations, not an optional extra).
  • Leverage KPIs and performance management systems to embed D&I (set workforce diversity targets).
  • Get people managers on board by treating them as key agents in fostering D&I (establish desired people manager behaviors).
  • Avoid bias (priorities and targets should be based on hard workforce data, not managers’ personal preferences/world views).
  • Support people managers to sensitively address any issues relating to diversity and inclusion, rather than skirting around these issues.

To read more about buy-in and commitment to D&I, see pages 11–16 of the full report.

3. Collect and analyse high-quality diversity data

Representative workforce data is a crucial component in making more informed people management decisions. The more – and better-quality – people data employers collect, the better they can design and target D&I activity and evaluate progress.

  • Make sure you have employees’ consent when collecting data (especially sensitive personal data).
  • Ensure that workforce data is representative.
  • Protect collected data in line with legal requirements (explain how it will – and won’t – be used, and ensure that data categories are suitable).
  • Aim to analyse reliable data throughout the employee lifecycle.
  • Reflect on what data/analysis is needed to progress D&I, and how it can be best collected.
  • Review your in-house people analytics capability.
  • Make the best use of the data you have and, where data allows, take an intersectional view.
  • Disaggregate data (where possible).

To read more about people data and diversity, see pages 17–24 of the full report.

4. Design diversity training holistically and use perspective-taking

Though training on D&I can change attitudes and foster a diverse and inclusive workplace, avoid taking it for granted. Follow these recommendations to ensure your training initiatives are effective.

  • Integrate diversity training into other D&I practices (as part of a holistic programme).
  • Ensure that training is ongoing (avoid making it a cursory, one-off event).
  • Prioritise L&D initiatives that use perspective taking (where people envisage the experience of others).
  • Avoid learning materials that suggest psychological biases are permanent (they can increase prejudice).
  • Align training with good L&D principles (consider blending online learning, face-to-face workshops and experiential learning).
  • Tailor training to different groups of people and job roles.
  • Continually evaluate the effectiveness of training interventions (outline clear aims/success measures from the get-go).

To read more about diversity training, see pages 24–28 of the full report.

5. Root out bias in job specifications and selection

Biased hiring and promotion decisions are a major issue in promoting workforce diversity. The criteria of ‘fit’ is well embedded in recruitment literature, but we need to be aware of the potential contradiction between recruiting and promoting people for ‘person-team’ or ‘person-organisation’ fit, and ensuring that talent management practices are inclusive and promote diversity. Here we outline a proposed approach to balancing ‘fit’ and diversity:

  • Stress-test job descriptions for D&I to weed out bias (from notions of who ‘suits’ a role/team/organisation).
  • Ask the hiring manager to write down the person specification in detail (include duties to fulfil, skills and knowledge required).
  • Encourage the manager to write up a description of how they envisage an ideal candidate (making explicit their assumptions about the skills/behaviours they ‘expect’ in a candidate).
  • Draw up the person specification based on the relevant/acceptable characteristics (avoiding words which are gendered, racialised or class-related).
  • Ensure the manager and HR professional (with D&I expertise) review the profile together.
  • Check that the language used in job specifications does not reflect bias.
  • Ensure that hiring managers are aware of any limiting assumptions they may have (coach them to put these assumptions aside).

To read more about person ‘fit’ versus diversity, see pages 28–33 of the full report.

6. Be ambitious in taking positive action on diversity

Positive action programmes should form a central part of any D&I strategy. In the report we consider evidence on the effectiveness of various positive action practices and strategies, including targeted recruitment campaigns, as well as mentoring, coaching and sponsorship for underrepresented groups. Stay on the right side of legislation and avoid misconceptions by following the suggestions below:

  • Consider how any positive action strategy links to other organisational practices.
  • Examine organisation/department objectives (ensure they complement/incorporate diversity targets).
  • Put adequate resources and effort into carefully positioning the aims/outcomes of any positive action.
  • Empower managers through positive action practices (where possible, give them choice and decision-making power within a D&I framework).
  • Set diversity targets jointly with people managers.
  • Hold managers accountable for their progress towards organisational D&I objectives.
  • Guide managers on what to do if they perceive a tension between D&I and other targets.
  • Promote mentoring while challenging sponsoring (sponsorship may hamper inclusion by justifying/perpetuating a climate based on an exclusive relationship).
  • Ensure that coaching or mentoring is available to all (or all within a targeted group) and widely promoted (an opt-in basis prevents it from becoming a box-ticking exercise).

To read more about taking positive action on diversity, see pages 33–41 of the full report.

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