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Want a successful diversity and inclusion strategy? Get middle management buy-in

Dec 14, 2020| Reading time: 16min

BY ChartHop

Tell us if this sounds familiar: Senior leadership is fired up about diversity. They draw up a diversity and inclusion strategy and encourage department heads, managers, and team leads to get fired up, too. Their vision moves through the company, but then days, weeks, months pass, and all efforts seem to come to a standstill.

What happened? Research suggests that enthusiasm never really spread past senior leadership.

Human resources and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) leaders want more than anything to make diversity and inclusion a success at their companies but struggle to generate the necessary buy-in.

It turns out that for diversity and inclusions efforts to make an impact, all levels of a company have to make a commitment.

This is especially necessary for middle management, who are involved in hiring, promoting, and managing employees. Managers are your diversity and inclusion linchpin, and their buy-in and support are essential.

When managers buy into diversity and inclusion initiatives, employees from underrepresented groups report a more inclusive work environment, free of bias. But to get buy-in, you must first equip managers with the skills and training necessary to support their diverse employees.

Managers Make or Break Your Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

Managers interact with employees on a daily basis, running meetings, conducting one-on-ones, and reviewing and promoting those employees. And with each interaction, managers have the opportunity to champion your company’s initiatives and culture. Especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

“[Managers are] the ones with the power to make employees feel safe enough to contribute their knowledge and perspectives,” says Dr. Melissa Thomas-Hunt, head of global diversity and belonging at Airbnb. “A great supervisor is someone who creates an environment in which a diverse array of people can succeed.”

Managers can transform a company value from intention to meaningful action and have a positive impact on the employee experience. As illustrated below, when managers consistently support diversity and inclusion initiatives, their minority employees are more likely to report a work experience that is free of bias.

For example, when managers support an effort such as unconscious-bias training, they are better able to recognize and address those behaviors in themselves. Take meetings: Previously, “housekeeping” tasks, such as ordering lunch for a Lunch & Learn or taking notes, fell to women. Now aware of that bias, managers can rotate those tasks throughout the team moving forward. This distributes work fairly across the team and removes bias.

It's frontline leaders who make or break progress on diversity

Leadership commitment to diversity influences the day-to-day experience of minority employees. (Source)

But even if a company commits to diversity, it doesn’t always guarantee that managers will likewise commit. Many will resist, consciously or unconsciously opting to maintain a status quo that has held back the advancement of women, Black people, and other underrepresented groups for decades.

When Boston Consulting Group (BCG) surveyed 16,500 employees around the world, 97% reported that their companies had diversity programs in place. Despite that, nearly half of the diverse respondents in the same survey confessed that bias was still present in their day-to-day experience at work. The missing factor? Consistent support for diversity and inclusion from their managers.

Get Managers On Board with Diversity and Inclusion with these Tactics

Managers are key when taking your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts from theory to practice. Set your managers up for success by considering some of the following tactics.

Involve Managers when creating Your Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

Diversity is an $8 billion industry in the United States. Yet, with all the money companies spend on external consultants, programs, and workshops, the lack of commitment and meaningful change means their efforts almost always fail.

While it might seem like a good idea to bring in external consultants as a set of fresh eyes on your company’s diversity struggles, consider the benefits of turning to people who know your company best: your managers.

When you involve managers in creating a diversity and inclusion strategy, you give them (and your company) the opportunity to own your strategy rather than transferring that responsibility to a third party.

Why is this important?

Managers understand what makes your company unique. They know your workforce and your workflows and which processes can be leveraged for diversity and inclusion efforts. They can identify real-life challenges, not hypothetical situations, and troubleshoot solutions. Capitalizing on your managers’ collective experience or pairing these internal resources with the expertise and insight of external consultants allows for better execution and training-to-real-life application. Additionally, managers become more invested in the success of the strategy, which translates to better implementation and long-term adoption.

Consider tapping your top-performing managers. Identify those who make conscious efforts to foster inclusivity with their teams and employees, and have them detail what practices work for them. How do they run meetings and one-on-ones? What about project assignments and reviews? Talk to the manager’s employees and get their perspective. Use your findings to shape your strategy.

With the help of your managers, establish your baseline and set company-wide goals for diversity and inclusion. For example, BCG identified five metrics they recommend companies use when measuring gender diversity efforts: pay, recruitment, retention, advancement, and representation. Using these metrics, companies can uncover challenges, prioritize goals, and identify specific interventions that will enable gender diversity.

Measuring what matters in gender diversity

Metrics that allow you to measure gender diversity over time. (Source)

Similarly, when your managers help identify metrics and goals for your strategy, you make the commitment to own the outcomes and the work required to get there. Ensure you have the [right tools](/platform/dei/ to measure your beginning state and to track progress over time. Having the data available makes it easier to measure your efforts against the industry and determine whether the progress you’re making is meaningful and sustainable.

Clearly Communicate Expectations

Research suggests that managers don’t always understand the role they play in diversity and inclusion initiatives, and that this lack of understanding directly impacts their level of commitment. That’s why it’s important that companies clearly communicate their expectations for managers.

With clear expectations, there’s little room for managers to doubt what is expected of them. Senior leadership should involve managers in setting attainable goals that align with diversity and inclusion initiatives. Doing so secures buy-in and increases the likelihood that managers will achieve their goals.

It’s also important that companies hold their managers accountable to these goals.

Without accountability, managers have little incentive to enact diversity and inclusion efforts in their department.

For example, say a manager’s goal is two new hires in the next quarter. Your expectation is that this hiring process will be fair and free of bias, and the manager is responsible for ensuring that.

Ask your manager to write up an inclusive job description, then meet with them to review it. Having your manager take a pass at it first offers a great opportunity to address any unconscious biases in a proactive, encouraging manner. Next, work with your manager to create a hiring criteria before they interview candidates. You can also ask the manager brainstorm this criteria independently and then meet with your HR team for review.

Ensure that the criteria is objective and focuses on skills necessary for the job. The benefits of inclusive job descriptions and objective hiring criteria are twofold: they will help managers achieve their hiring goals, and they will ensure that they do so in a way that is fair and free of bias.

When you set goals, make sure you clearly define how diversity and inclusion in hiring, promotion, and team management will be factored into the manager’s review.

For example, here at ChartHop, we require that the candidates selected to interview for an executive role include, at minimum, one individual from an underrepresented group. We also closely monitor our hiring pipeline, especially for roles like engineering, to ensure we have representation that matches the industry standard. Managers are expected to present on diversity within their pipeline, which holds them accountable to their goals.

As managers progress toward their goals, make sure you provide opportunities for them to assess how their efforts are aligning with the overall strategy. Tools like diversity scorecards and surveys that assess diversity efforts can help managers see what they’re doing well and where there’s still opportunity to improve.

Include Diversity and Inclusion in Manager Performance Reviews

If managers know their diversity and inclusions efforts factor into their individual review and advancement opportunities, they are likely to give more time and attention to these initiatives.

Companies can track managers’ recruiting and promotion decisions, as well as employee retention. They should also strongly consider pairing this data with quantitative and qualitative reviews from their direct employees and candidates. While numbers might point to a trend worth addressing, employee reviews can uncover problematic behaviors or actions worth recognizing.

Some companies might consider tying a manager’s diversity and inclusion goals to a monetary incentive, like a bonus or a raise.

Back in 2015, Intel put two monetary incentives in place to help their company achieve its diversity goals. The first tied 7% of bonuses to hiring and retention goals, and the second doubled referral bonuses for those employees who referred candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. This referral bump helped Intel exceed its diversity hiring goal in just one year.

Of course, monetary incentives come with caveats. Companies that tie compensation to diversity goals should consider it part of their broader diversity and inclusion strategy, and not a quick fix to reach specific diversity metrics.

Diversity and inclusion should never be treated as a check box that leadership can tick and move on from—it is part of a long-term commitment to investing in and advancing employees from all backgrounds.

Ensure Ongoing Training and Support

Even though managers, as a whole, interact with and manage close to 80% of an organization, they receive only 20-30% of an organization’s training budget and efforts. This figure becomes more troublesome when you consider how many of these managers are first-time managers and are unprepared for the role, especially at fast growing organizations.

That’s why companies should commit to ongoing training and support opportunities that equip managers with the tools and skills to make their day-to-day interactions with employees more inclusive. But how do you deliver this crucial training in a way that is impactful and long-lasting?

Consider the following:

  • Make training voluntary. The immediate fear is that, by making training voluntary, no one will attend. The research simply doesn’t support that. In fact, studies show that when managers are encouraged to participate in diversity training rather than being required to attend, they are more receptive to the training. Treat training as collaborative problem-solving, and invite them to help the company improve diversity and inclusion efforts.
  • Take advantage of internal resources. Remember those top-performing managers who helped shape your strategy? They might be a better teacher than someone brought in from outside your organization. Why? Managers can relate to other managers. They all work in the same environment and deal with the same issues. This credibility works in the training manager’s favor and could generate better overall engagement than what might be seen with an outside expert.
  • Opt for ongoing, distributed training. Put an end to the one-off, three-hour workshops. They just aren’t working. With time, managers simply slip back into old habits and mind-sets. Instead, consider creative ways to involve managers in ongoing training. Build a training series, create a book club, or offer mentoring opportunities. Make these trainings available monthly so managers have time to absorb, process, and apply what they learn to their work life and employee interactions.
  • Pair awareness-building with skill-building. One of the most effective diversity training approaches pairs awareness-building with skills that managers can immediately put to use. Take unconscious-bias training, for example: it’s important to train managers to recognize and overcome unconscious bias but also provide them with ways they can tackle it in the workplace. This Bias Interrupters worksheet outlines how biases show up in the hiring process and challenges managers to address these biases through eight “bias interrupters.” Having options allows the manager to choose what approach feels most effective, given the situation.

Managers Can Make Every Day a Success

A recent study on diversity efforts for LGBTQ employees uses the phrase “1,000 daily touch points” when addressing daily interactions between LGBTQ workers and their coworkers and managers. Large or small, these daily touch points shape the employees’ experience at work.

Now, apply it to your company: 1,000 daily touch points. That’s 1,000 daily opportunities for your managers to make their employees feel included, heard, and recognized. By equipping managers with the necessary skills and tool sets, you empower them to become an active ally, invested in the growth, success, and day-to-day work experience of their teams.

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