Forum Institutional

Diversity and inclusion policies are at threat – here’s how to keep them on track

Adversity around diversity and inclusion can provide opportunities to strengthen policies and practices.

Adversity around diversity and inclusion can provide opportunities to strengthen policies and practices. Image: Pixabay/geralt

Supriya Jha
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, SAP
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Society and Equity

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  • A debate in the United States around affirmative action has placed doubt on the future of broader diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies in the workplace.
  • The adversity around proactive D&I can provide an opportunity to revisit internal policies and practices to strengthen them.
  • Here are four things organizations can do to ensure D&I goals stay on track.

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is under fire. In the United States (US), the courts recently ruled that race could no longer be a factor in university admissions, defeating affirmative action policies. There is now a passionate and polarizing debate on whether D&I strategies in the corporate environment lead to equity or bring down meritocracies.

To make matters worse, the narrative of defunding D&I initiatives in the corporate arena can unnerve companies’ small D&I teams. As we stand in the throws of this debate, it should be clear that D&I has not been a fleeting trend and remains an imperative that shapes the fabric of organizations and society.

The US trajectory on D&I might seem uncertain but the need for it is clear, including at a global level. Today's challenges are opportunities to refine and strengthen our strategies so workplaces and communities are genuinely inclusive.

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Maintaining the path to an inclusive future

As organizations stand at a crossroads, here are four things that can keep one grounded in the D&I journey:

1. Cultivating a sense of belonging

D&I is not a checkbox exercise; a common misconception is that it targets only people of colour. The purpose of D&I is to nurture a sense of belonging regardless of individual differences. When individuals feel welcomed, valued and respected, they contribute their best.

Gone are the days when people can simply be viewed as organizational assets: employees want to be valued as individuals and creators of change. Nothing cultivates belonging more than love and care – that’s evident as we feel genuinely connected to familial units, societies and organizations that care for us.

Nurturing that belonging in the workplace requires genuine and consistent leadership, commitment and vision. When I reflect on the many actions companies took during the pandemic, the most compelling ones contributing to higher retention involved leaders being accessible and present to listen to employees.

Creating opportunities for leaders to listen to and act on the needs of their diverse employee base is a strategy that works well in many directions. From the CEO to the front-line manager, empathetic listening skills assure employees they are heard and seen.

2. Doing the groundwork for our future

Efforts in the D&I arena are not momentary but also exist for future generations.

As a mother of two girls, I have a vested interest in driving forward D&I in organizations. I want my daughters to experience a workplace where they can be themselves and their differences and uniqueness are celebrated. They should be provided with opportunities based on their skills and talent.

More importantly, the workplace should help staff optimize their potential instead of wasting time fitting into cultures made by a homogenous majority. My hope is the pandemic-induced flexible and remote work policies don’t become exceptional but are normalized across industries where feasible. Additionally, providing employees with tools to recognize and address unconscious biases via continuous education and training can help raise collective awareness and foster a more inclusive environment.

Having served in the [diversity and inclusion] space for over 16 years, I’ve learned that [it] is not a one-time action; it requires resilience and constant adaption.

Supriya Jha, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, SAP SE

3. Unleashing the power of employee resource groups

Employee resource groups are beacons of progress in a company’s journey. These networks are voluntary, employee-led groups that unite individuals with shared backgrounds, experiences, identities or interests. More importantly, they need to be open to all – so that the “upstanders” – not bystanders – and allies can find a space to learn and grow.

Spaces for shared experiences spark conversations that lead to meaningful change for the community and business. Making employee resource groups part of the business strategy with executive involvement has been tried and tested in most organizations. Enabling these groups to contribute to partner, supplier and community interactions can further help unleash the collective’s power. What makes for great strategy within the workplace can translate to a growing movement in society and the marketplace.

4. Consistency is key

Having served in the D&I space for over 16 years, I’ve learned that it is not a one-time action; it requires resilience and constant adaption. To bring about lasting change, we must show evidence of incremental progress. But any win is worthwhile, even minor achievements.

It is essential to remember that accumulating these steady, incremental steps leads to success overall. As we navigate the complexities of implementing D&I strategies, let us recognize that it is not about a destination but the journey.

Inculcating inclusive hiring practices at all levels, fostering environments that champion the engagement of neurodivergent talent and opening doors for underrepresented businesses will all set us on a path to a more equitable future. Setting clear and measurable goals, recalibrating at every step, celebrating the diversity and uniqueness of the workforce and amplifying the achievements loudly are the factors contributing to success.

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Ultimately, our quest for belonging is a tapestry woven with threads of diverse experiences, united by a shared purpose. Let us continue weaving this tapestry, creating a world where our differences are not divisions but vibrant threads that enrich the canvas of human existence.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Forum InstitutionalEquity, Diversity and Inclusion
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