Organisations can successfully tackle diversity when they start taking it seriously. Often, when it comes to diversity, organisations launch initiatives and actions that end up being a tick the box exercise and these don’t result in sustained change. This article in the Guardian shows how little change has actually taken place to date. We need to go beyond the conversation, the unconscious bias training, the workforce analytics, engagement surveys. We need to take decisive action to disrupt decision making processes. When an organisation takes diversity seriously, its leaders are willing to challenge the status quo and the way ‘we do things around here’ over and over again.
However, in order to make this happen, organisations need to proactively develop all their people, with a particular focus on the most underrepresented demographic groups. This goes a long way to breaking down barriers, challenging norms and enabling genuine diversity in thinking, styles and backgrounds. The most underrepresented group in organisations is the black woman (Management Today). Whilst gender diversity has seen some progress, particularly in large listed companies, the percentage of black women in management and leadership positions is disappointingly small.
Therefore, for organisations who want to start making a tangible difference, there are two things they can do 1) address diversity in the broader context and 2) enable targeted and focused development of black women in the organisation to accelerate diversity and inclusion goals.
Addressing Diversity in the broader context
This starts with acknowledging that it’s the right thing to do, that you have a problem and that there are untapped benefits available to your organisation. This requires real and genuine soul searching withing leadership and making a decision to take genuine action, even if it may not at first present tangible commercial results. Organisations must put in place a root and branch review of their people processes and take time to listen to the individuals who represent the diverse communities within your organisation. They should be asked to share their experiences, at each stage of their career, and invited to contribute their ideas on what must be done differently to enable inclusion. It’s essential that the right people are in the room for key decision-making forums, not just because of their status in the organisation but because of what they can contribute. Champions and allies – who will sponsor and advocate for the advancement and inclusion of all your people as well as calling out negative behaviours and attitudes of peers and colleagues – should be appointed.
Targeted and focused development of the black woman
It is important to acknowledge that the black woman in an organisation has two challenges – the fact that she’s a woman and that she’s black. On top of that she is also more likely to have imposter syndrome (BBC article). This is exacerbated by the lack of role models in visible senior leadership positions. When targeted leadership development is available she is afforded mentoring, sponsorship, networking and can openly surface those issues that she alone faces, in the company of people whose experiences are not dissimilar. It will afford her a rich tapestry of experiences and ideas of how to overcome challenges that are not immediately available to her from other types of learning interventions. The resounding benefit to the individual will be to accelerate her personal and professional development. It will enable her to navigate the organisational career ladder. Today the black woman who ascends the career ladder is likely to be a pioneer and one of the very first of her kind in senior positions. The advantage of leadership programmes specially curated for her is that she can form a community of other strong black women, ideally from a variety of industry backgrounds, which she can lean into from time to time for support and inspiration. It also enables organisations to tap into the hitherto unleashed potential of this underrepresented group, set an example for all demographics and strengthen the talent pipeline. This will no doubt show up in commercial results but should not however be the driver. It is simply the right thing to do and to do now.
Yetunde Hofmann is a Board level executive leadership coach and mentor, global change, inclusion and diversity expert, author of Beyond Engagement and founder of SOLARIS – a pioneering new leadership development programme for black women. Find out more at http://www.solarisleadership.com/