Time to Look in the Mirror: Real D&I Progress Requires Honest Self-Assessment

It’s not enough to just pay lip service; true diversity and inclusion requires organizations to take stock and then take action.

Caroline McLean, Partner, Recruitment Solutions & Lead, Equity and Diversity in Search Working Group

Time to Look in the Mirror: Real D&I Progress Requires Honest Self-Assessment

It’s been a year since the Black Lives Matter movement sparked protests around the world to draw attention to our lack of progress on combatting systemic racism and discrimination, while at the same time kicking off a global campaign by governments and employers to promote true equality, diversity and inclusivity.


So, how are we doing?


Progress in complex societal challenges like this is always going to be a bit hard to measure. But of what we have been able to measure, the results are not that promising.


The Globe and Mail recently conducted an analysis of the 209 Canadian companies that signed on to the BlackNorth Initiative, a five-year plan to hire and promote more Black employees. The analysis found that in its first year, “a substantial number of them have neither increased the number of Black employees in their workforce nor elevated Black people to executive roles or to the board.”


Similar results are being seen in other countries. In the United Kingdom, six in 10 workers in a recent poll said momentum towards improved diversity has “fizzled” in the year since Black Lives Matter exploded on the global stage.


If many of the world’s employers are struggling to make progress in diversity and inclusion (D&I), it’s not surprising. This is a huge issue that speaks directly to behaviours and mindsets that are baked into the human condition. If we can take anything positive over the last year, it’s the fact that we’re trying and increasingly, we are getting closer and closer to the tools and strategies that can make a real difference.


A recent LHH LinkedIn poll found that of all the ways organizations are promoting racial diversity and equality, a focus on recruiting and hiring practices is taking on greater importance. In the survey, 43 percent of respondents said “unbiased recruitment strategies” were the best way to build racial diversity. Nearly a quarter said inclusive workplace policies, 18 percent identified diverse mentorships and another 16 percent said diversity training.


There is a good reason why efforts to remove racial bias from recruitment strategies have risen in importance. Once an organization learns how to hire more diverse talent, it is taking a huge and important step towards building a more diverse culture. However, on its own, improved recruitment and hiring strategies will not address meaningful organizational inclusivity.


Where your organization needs to focus its energies really depends on where you are in your D&I journey. If you haven’t done anything, or very little, to hire in a more diverse fashion, then you’re unlikely to have done much on the inclusivity front. Knowing how and where to start improving on all these challenges can be daunting. So much so that it overwhelms many organizations and, as a result, prevents them from doing anything at all.


Where to start? Before any great change can be realized, there needs to be a period of unflinching self-assessment. It makes perfect sense: how will you know where to go if you don’t have a clear picture of where you are right now?


D&I is an incredibly complex challenge but there are some basic building blocks that need to be in place. This self-assessment should help you figure out where your organization stands in the D&I continuum.


1. Reflecting on the last year, how have you changed your hiring practices to create a more diverse workforce?

If we can acknowledge that unbiased hiring and recruitment is a key precursor for achieving D&I, then it’s important to demonstrate there have been some changes in your recruitment and hiring practices. For example, have your hiring managers taken unconscious bias training and have you included a more diverse roster of hiring managers? Have you taken steps to change the language in job postings to ensure that they are not discouraging racially diverse candidates? Have you tried implementing blind CV recruitment strategies? These are basic tools that can help put your organization on the right D&I path but only if they are actually put into action.

2. Is your organization measuring EDI progress, or are you relying on anecdotal evidence?
In the Globe and Mail analysis of the BlackNorth Initiative, an alarming number of companies that signed up were forced to admit that they did not collect any data on changes in the diversity of their workforces during the first year of the program. That is not surprising; far too many organizations fail to devote resources to measuring and analyzing the state of complex challenges. All companies have different recruitment challenges which impact the diversity of their workforce. Has your organization introduced any changes to hiring and recruitment and if so, are you measuring the impacts? You will never know the size of the problem, or the impact of the solutions unless you measure and analyze.

3. Have you done a deep dive on successes?
It’s important to note that some organizations will be able to demonstrate success in some aspects of D&I. If that’s the case, dig deep into those successes to find out exactly what it is you did that produced better overall results. Was it the result of a broader policy or practice that was introduced? Or did your overall diversity improve simply because you used a more diverse pool of hiring managers, or mandated a more diverse pool of candidates from your search partner? Whatever the reason, take steps to identify it and – if the improvement was meaningful – share that story with others. In general, it seems that the vast majority of organizations are still struggling to find traction on D&I. But we all benefit from seeing detailed examples of what works.

4. Where can you be better on a go-forward basis?
If you’ve introduced new tools and policy changes and measured the outcomes, and done the deep dive to understand your successes, then there is one more important step: plan for the next stage of improvement. D&I is not a challenge that can be met with a one-time, sudden flurry of attention. It’s really a life-long challenge for business leaders and the organizations they lead. Best practices need not only to be established but also nurtured and enhanced.

Even though the progress made in the last year has fallen well short of expectations, it’s important to note that there has been some progress. And even for those organizations that have struggled, many are still engaged in trying to find solutions.

But to do better, we need to take a sustained, data-driven approach. We cannot be satisfied simply with anecdotal evidence or small, early successes.

Events like Black Lives Matter helped focus a global debate on D&I. However, in many ways, a true commitment to D&I needs to be demonstrated long after the protests have stopped.

Share this article