We hear a lot about diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. Millennials now believe D&I is essential to business success. Thompson Reuters has launched a D&I Index of the top 100 most diverse and inclusive organizations.
But too often, organizations focus only on diversity. We want to hire more women, or more ethnically diverse people, or more people with disabilities.
The mistake we often make is to ignore inclusion. To achieve a truly diverse workforce, we need to create inclusive environments in which different people and different points of view are welcomed and valued. This is sometimes described as moving from “simply counting people” to “making people count,” and along that path to true D&I, data often points the way.
Other people, other perspectives
In my role as acting government chief talent officer for the New Zealand State Services Commission (SSC), I’m responsible for D&I initiatives across the State Services. Thinking back, my perspectives on D&I were formed when I was a girl.
When I was at school, I spent 12 months in Mainland China as part of a student-exchange program. That allowed me to experience a culture that was very foreign to me. It opened my eyes to the fact that there was more to the world than just my world as a young Kiwi woman.
Looking back, I think that’s when I began to understand that it’s not just about diversity. It’s about actually welcoming other people and other perspectives. We can have curiosity about cultures or points of view that are different from our own. But that’s not the same as actually connecting with those cultures or valuing different points of view. And I try to keep that in mind when I look at both the challenges and the opportunities we face with D&I.
The SSC is a central government agency, which means we have a stewardship role across multiple organizations. That allows us to take a government-wide approach to initiatives – recognizing, supporting, and leveraging what each agency is implementing – as opposed to each agency having to reinvent things on its own.
In many ways we’re still early on our journey toward D&I. In the 1980s and 1990s, key legislative measures were passed to protect and improve D&I in government and business. These laws addressed specific groups such as Māori, who comprise about 15% of New Zealanders, as well as people with disabilities. Looking back, the focus was on compliance and reporting, rather than on sustainable cultural change.
We’re now trying to shift that focus to make D&I more fundamental, to show that D&I underpins both public-service and business success. It enables organizations to access a much larger talent pool and avoid waste. It also ensures our businesses are truly customer-centered.
We’re also facing new issues, like a rapidly growing urban population and, in Auckland, our largest city, one of the most diverse urban populations in the world. But it’s not a matter of simply addressing ethnicity or gender as individual issues. Instead, it’s a commitment to ensure that government organizations reflect, understand, and value the communities they serve.
From data to D&I
On our journey to D&I, we’ve found that good data is imperative. For one thing, data can allow us to identify dimensions we would otherwise miss and to track our progress.
If we look only at our own department, it might be easy to see where we stand in terms of D&I. It’s much more difficult to have that visibility across a large organization or a system. To gain a global view of issues like ethnicity, gender, and age, we need accurate data. Data enables conversations about progress, barriers, unintended consequences, and what actions we can take.
For example, when we look at the data for senior leadership in public service agencies in New Zealand, we see that it’s 56% male and 44% female. We see that it’s 83% of New Zealand European ethnicity and 17% ethnically diverse. We see that it’s 95% based in Wellington, a primarily government city, and five percent based in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest and most diverse city.
So then, for example, we can say that to be representative of our community we need 50 more female leaders, or 75 more ethnically diverse leaders, or 100 more leaders in Auckland. That gives us practical, tangible goals, rather than just vague notions about being more diverse.
We can also use data to find the path to achieving those goals. For example, we can see the number of our people who will retire in the next 10 years. So we know we have to focus on attracting younger workers to government careers and on succession planning for those later in their careers.
In addition, we can see there’s an 11% to 20% pay gap based on ethnicity, and that lower-paid roles are more ethnically diverse than senior roles. So we know that if, among other things, we address pay gaps, we can better value and use our more ethnically diverse population within the government workforce. And if we focus on improving leadership capabilities, we can prepare a more ethnically diverse workforce for leadership roles.
More than diversity
It’s very important to note, however, that the solution isn’t quotas. That just brings you back to mere compliance, instead of developing a truly inclusive workplace that understands and values diversity. We may know we need 50 more women in leadership roles. But the solution isn’t simply to hire 50 women. The solution is to create an environment that enables a balanced number of women and men to rise to leadership positions.
For example, we just completed an analysis of senior leadership across government. What we learned – and external research backs this up – is that women are less likely than men to put themselves forward for higher-level positions or for roles that extend their experience. That is, women are less likely to assess their experience and capabilities positively compared to their peers, and less likely to perceive that they’re qualified for senior-leadership jobs.
We also learned that women are making these assessments in the absence of data. When we provide women with information about how they stack up against their peers, they revise their self-assessments upward, and they’re more likely to apply for leadership positions. So one way we can influence the ranks of women in senior leadership is by providing women with relevant data.
If we hire more women leaders, we reach a goal for the short term. If we also take meaningful steps to create an environment in which women leaders are welcome, we achieve our objectives for the long term.
In other words, we need diversity and inclusion. We can try to make our organizations more diverse in terms of gender, or ethnicity, or age, or ability. But unless we create an inclusive culture, we’ll find it difficult to succeed in the long term. If we want to make a difference in the workplace, we need to create environments that genuinely embrace diversity and value difference.
This blog is part of our Defining Moment series. At SAP, our higher purpose is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. We are committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace and moving #BusinessBeyondBias. To learn more, join us at SuccessConnect 2016 and visit www.successfactors.com.