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Is diversity training an expensive waste of time?

Just one quarter of companies around the world include diversity and inclusion in their leadership development and fewer still have any diversity or inclusion goals, new research reveals.

A report by Josh Bersin analysts raises doubts about traditional approaches to increasing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Based on more than 800 responses from HR professionals around the world, the study found that DEI training – a common corporate practice – is less successful than actively listening to employees. 

Only 22% of HR professionals believe their organisations’ DEI efforts have raised awareness among employees, customers, or suppliers, and fewer than 12% of companies compensate or track senior leaders for achievement of specific inclusion or diversity goals.

Four out of ten companies regard diversity and inclusion as a risk mitigation and compliance issue and have no comprehensive DEI strategy.

Three in four companies plan to review hiring

The research coincides with a survey from UK recruitment tech company Arctic Shores which reveals three in four companies plan to review their diversity hiring practices for 2021, despite 81% already having unconscious bias training in place.

After a year in which the Black Lives Matter movement catapulted diversity issues to the front of the news and social agenda, companies were asked to rank their top three desired improvements to the talent acquisition (TA) process in 2021. ‘Removing unconscious bias’ was rated as the top priority (25%), followed by ‘making hiring manager interviews less prone to ‘gut feel’ (24%), and ‘making the delivery of the talent acquisition process consistent across the business’ (18%). 

These desired improvements also align with the overall top challenges for talent in 2021, which are ‘access to top talent’ (19%) and ‘diversity and inclusion’ (18%). The survey canvassed 250 business leaders, heads of talent acquisition and HR directors.

Arctic Shores CEO Robert Newry said it was encouraging that companies wanted to address issues of unconscious bias and ‘gut feel’ but there was still a lot of work to do. “The survey also highlights that there is a problem between company training and actual delivery of diversity objectives,” he said. “Companies need to ask themselves why they are hiring for diversity? Because it's a box to tick? No, of course not. People should want to celebrate and be part of diverse teams – and we should all feel a duty to provide fairness and opportunity. This, in turn, will create stronger teams and have a bigger impact on success.”

Responsibility from the top

The Josh Bersin study highlights that C-suite commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is key to success. Organisations that have achieved meaningful DEI outcomes are:

  • - 4.3 times more likely to have a CEO who articulates the company’s DEI vision and transparently communicates progress

  • - 9.4 times more likely to have a CEO who holds senior leaders accountable for DEI results, and

  • - 10 times more likely to have a DEI strategy that is an integral component of the company’s business strategy.  

It also found that businesses that implemented listening and action strategies are:

  • - 3.6 times more likely to innovate effectively

  • - 8.5 times more likely to satisfy and retain customers, and

  • - 12 times more likely to engage and retain employees.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion is a hotly discussed topic and clearly essential to business success,” global industry analyst Josh Bersin said. “However, there are no clear guidelines on how to effect lasting, meaningful change. The entire domain is highly complex, and many companies turn to legacy tactics of unconscious bias training, diverse recruiting and other directives that can backfire and even contribute to more division than unity. It’s time for CEOs and CHROs to define their businesses in diverse, fair, and inclusive ways.”

Use tech to focus on inclusion

The Josh Bersin research highlights the importance of focusing on inclusion; a company can force workforce diversity but still have a culture in which minority employees feel disenfranchised. Technology solutions can help companies monitor feelings of inclusion among employees in a variety of different ways – ranging from targeted pulse surveys to network analysis.  

The Arctic Shores survey found that, alongside a CV and interview to assess candidate potential, nine out of 10 respondents use at least one or more extra tools (e.g. an application form, behaviour-based assessment, realistic job preview, situational judgement test), with just under half (48%) using a ‘technical skills test’. 

Inadequate HR expertise

The Josh Bersin report also reveals that HR professionals are not well trained to support DEI initiatives and managerial issues. A separate survey by the organisation of more than 3,000 HR professionals reveals just 3% claim deep expertise in the area, while 80% assess themselves as “beginners.”

“Across industries, geographies and organisational sizes, the most successful organisations are listening to their employees, and hear and act accordingly,” said Kathi Enderes, Vice President of Research at Josh Bersin Academy. “They also have strong, highly capable HR people to consult on DEI with leaders at all levels. These companies also have set clear, measurable goals that go beyond diversity representation and instil accountability across all levels.”

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