• When an issue arises, a meaningful response begins with listening.
  • Diversity, equity & inclusion initiatives must be ongoing and institutionalized.
  • Establishing key performance indicators and holding ourselves accountable to them is the only way forward.

The global pandemic has put much of everyday life on hold, including many important corporate initiatives. While it’s understandable that plant expansions or new product releases may have been delayed for economic reasons, indications are that some companies have also slowed down their diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) programmes. And that is troubling.

2020 has shone a bright spotlight on racial and social injustice. Now is the time to accelerate the diverse thinking and perspectives needed to uncover innovative solutions for these problems, not to pull back out of fear or discomfort.

A study by McKinsey revealed that the overall sentiment towards diversity was 52% positive. However, sentiment on inclusion was remarkably worse at only 29% positive. This indicates that we must not only diversify our workplaces, but also actively make the case for inclusion to our team members.

Promoting diversity does not ensure a culture of inclusion.
Image: McKinsey

None of us has all the answers, especially during these troubling times. And yet, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “The way to begin is to begin.” That has been our approach at HPE, with the awareness that we have much to learn and far more to do. I share here three observations that have struck me as we have been talking to employees, and questioning our own approach and beliefs.

1. Listen first

When an issue arises or a crisis strikes, our immediate instinct is to take action. But we must be mindful that we respond and not simply react. And a powerful, meaningful response begins with listening. As one of our team members said in a meeting earlier this summer: “How can you fix what you don’t understand? How can you help me when you haven’t even taken the time to hear me?”

Every organization must strive to hear different voices and challenge conventional thinking in order to continually improve. At HPE, heeding our team members’ advice, our leadership team met with several Black and African American team members to hear their stories and experiences, and solicit their advice. These candid conversations, which revealed several issues that would otherwise have gone unaddressed, quickly led to several well-thought-out and tangible actions, including the creation of a global HPE Inclusion and Diversity Council, which our CEO is chairing; enhanced leadership training; support for student scholars at Historically Black Colleges and Universities; and other tangible initiatives designed to foster positive change.

These are steps in the right direction and we understand there are no easy, quick-fix solutions. But we are wholeheartedly committed to better educating ourselves, challenging our beliefs, and transforming into better allies and advocates for our team members whose voices are underrepresented.

2. Make systemic change

Racism is systemic and systemic problems can’t be wished away with piecemeal or one-time actions. To be both meaningful and effective, DE&I initiatives must be ongoing and institutionalized, so the entire system becomes diverse, equitable and inclusive. Only systemic change can right the wrongs of systemic racial and socio-economic inequalities. For example, HPE recently took the steps to amend historical technical nomenclature to eliminate common terminology that is today regarded as offensive and discriminatory, based on the IEFT recommendations.

3. Create a mechanism for accountability

The business adage “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” certainly applies to DE&I. How will we know the steps we’re taking to become an equitable, more inclusive and welcoming workplace are working if we don’t set goals and hold ourselves accountable?

Establishing key performance indicators (KPIs), and holding ourselves accountable to them, is the only way forward. Tracking employee participation in meetings and forums, and regularly surveying them on the effectiveness of DE&I programmes will inform whether or not we are moving towards our first goal of listening. Further, we must painstakingly and continually analyze hard data with respect to a more diverse workforce at all levels of the organization.

Mobilising Action for Inclusive Societies

Recent years have witnessed some of the largest protests in human history. People are taking to the streets amid a desire for change, putting pressure on decision-makers for urgent and courageous leadership to find sustainable and inclusive solutions to some of the major challenges ahead of us.

A range of forces are at play. By 2022, some 60% of gross domestic product will be digitized - but current education systems are failing to prepare people for decent work in this future. Based on current trends, it will also take approximately two centuries to close the global economic gender gap. Meanwhile, the world’s richest 1% are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030.

To tackle these challenges, Mobilising Action for Inclusive Societies is one of the four focus areas at the World Economic Forum's 2019 Sustainable Development Impact summit. A range of sessions will bring stakeholders together to take action that will bolster local entrepreneurship and innovation, while making growth more equitable.

The world is ever-changing. What was seemingly impactful in DE&I yesterday can take a sudden turn tomorrow. That’s why it will take a sustained, thoughtful engagement to drive real change. We must show that we’re focused on the long term, with clear goals and a culture of learning and adapting along the way.