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Want a Successful DEIB Strategy? Get Middle Management Buy-In

Nov 9, 2022| Reading time: 15min

BY Ivori Johnson

Director of DEIB

Tell us if this sounds familiar: Senior leadership develops an exciting new DEIB strategy and announces their vision to all employees. Everyone attends a company-wide training on creating a more inclusive environment. But then days, weeks, and months pass, and all efforts seem to come to a standstill.

What happened? The glaring error is that inclusion tactics weren’t woven into the fabric of the company’s culture. It turns out that for DEIB efforts to make an impact, leaders need to embed it into all business and people decisions. 

This includes training middle management, who are involved in hiring, promoting, and managing employees. Managers are your DEIB linchpin, and their buy-in and support are essential to ensuring your efforts are successful across teams and departments.

Managers Make or Break Your DEIB Strategy

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 respondents 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.

When managers buy into diversity and inclusion initiatives, they transform an intention into meaningful action, all while making a positive impact on the employee experience. 

Dr. Melissa Thomas-Hunt, Head of Global Diversity and Belonging at Airbnb, highlights the power managers have on their direct reports. She says: “[Managers are] the ones with the power to make employees feel safe enough to contribute their knowledge and perspectives. A great supervisor is someone who creates an environment in which a diverse array of people can succeed.”

In short, we know that good managers interact with their direct reports on a daily basis: they run team meetings, conduct 1:1s, and help their people reach their goals. With each interaction, managers can champion your company’s initiatives and culture, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion. But to achieve manager buy-in, you must first equip managers with the skills and training necessary to support employees from all backgrounds and with different levels of experience. 

DEI strategy

When managers consistently support diversity and inclusion initiatives, their people that identify as underrepresented talent are more likely to report a bias-free work experience. 

4 Tactics to Bring Managers On Board with Diversity and Inclusion

Ready to empower your managers to help drive your DEIB efforts? Check out the following four tactics to increase the success of your diversity and inclusion strategy. 

1. Involve Managers When Creating Your Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

Although companies spend $8 billion a year on external DEIB consultants, programs, and workshops, many fall short when it comes to putting that knowledge to practice (which unfortunately means that efforts almost always fail).

So while it might seem like a good idea to bring in external consultants as a set of fresh eyes, consider the benefits of turning to people who know your company best: your managers.

Capitalizing on your managers’ collective experience – and pairing these internal resources with the expertise and insight of external consultants – allows for better execution and training-to-real-life application. 

Why? Managers know your workforce, your workflows, and the processes that you can use to introduce diversity and inclusion efforts. They can also identify real-life challenges – not hypothetical situations – and troubleshoot solutions. 

When you involve middle managers in creating a diversity and inclusion strategy, you give them (and your company) the opportunity to own your efforts rather than transferring that responsibility to a third party. That means you’ll plan according to what is best for your people and make decisions based on your data.

What Involving Middle Management Looks Like

When you tap your top-performing managers to help drive your DEIB efforts, consider doing the following: 

  • Gain insight on top managers’ behaviors. Determine managers who make conscious efforts to foster inclusivity with their teams and individual employees (which may manifest in different forms across your people data) and have them detail what practices work for them. How do they run meetings and 1:1s? What about project assignments and reviews? Use your findings to shape your strategy.
  • Rework hiring criteria. Work with managers to create hiring criteria. This collaboration helps ensure that how you evaluate candidates is objective and focuses on skills necessary for the job. 
  • Rewrite job descriptions. Your job descriptions not only reflect your company’s values, but are also often the first opportunity you have to connect with prospective candidates. Leaders, middle managers, and your DEIB team should work together to help guarantee job descriptions are inclusive and free of bias – therefore setting clear expectations for inclusive hiring practices across the company. 
  • Look at your people data. BCG identified five metrics they recommend companies use when measuring gender diversity efforts: pay, recruitment, retention, advancement, and representation. Use these metrics to uncover challenges, prioritize goals, and identify specific interventions that will help your DEIB efforts. 

ChartHop ENPS Data Reports example

Look at all of your people data to determine which managers are top performers. Luckily, with a people analytics platform, you can filter data by team and department to pinpoint strong managers.

2. Clearly Communicate Expectations

Clear communication is important for any initiative, but especially for your DEIB strategy. Unfortunately, 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. 

It’s therefore critical to share your vision, expectations, and follow-up procedures so middle management understands their responsibilities. Additionally, by providing information in multiple settings and formats (such as All Hands meetings, 1:1s, and manager trainings), you ensure the right people hear the same information so there’s no confusion down the road. 

What Communicating Expectations Looks Like

When you clearly communicate expectations to your middle managers, you help drive home the importance of their role and commitment to your DEIB efforts. When setting expectations, make sure you:

  • Set a clear trajectory. Your managers may not buy into your efforts if you aren’t transparent with the end goal. Communicate what managers’ roles are in the planning process to ensure they feel their expertise is respected and valued. What’s more, when you’re clear about your intentions, you relay the same message and requirements to everyone. 
  • Involve managers in setting attainable goals. Having managers set DEIB goals secures buy-in and increases the likelihood that managers will achieve their goals. It’s also important that companies hold managers accountable to these goals. Without accountability, managers may not be motivated to shift efforts when it comes to management practices.
  • Check in regularly. While it’s important to communicate expectations, you also need to follow up with managers to provide any additional support and create alignment across teams.

3. Include Diversity and Inclusion in Manager Performance Reviews

Diversity and inclusion should never be treated as a list item to check off. Instead, DEIB is a long-term commitment to investing in and advancing employees from all backgrounds.

That’s why it’s a good idea to include DEIB efforts in middle managers’ performance reviews. When managers know their efforts factor into their individual review and advancement opportunities, they are likely to prioritize these initiatives to help better their team and company as a whole.

What Incorporating DEIB Efforts into Reviews Looks Like

  • Track managers’ people decisions. Start tracking managers’ recruiting and promotion decisions, as well as employee retention. You 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 your attention.
  • Encourage self-assessment. 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.
  • Offer monetary incentives. 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.

downward review template

Upward and downward reviews allow employees and executives to provide feedback on managers. Asking for specific feedback can help create a stronger team dynamic, pinpoint areas of concern, and identify possible next steps in your DEIB strategy. 

4. Provide Ongoing Training and Support

Even though managers 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 companies. 

Companies should therefore provide ongoing training and support that equips middle management with the tools and skills needed to strengthen their DEIB efforts. 

What Ongoing DEIB Training for Middle Management Looks Like

How do you deliver 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 thought. 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. You may find that treating training as collaborative problem-solving helps managers further invest in your DEIB strategy.
  • 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 you might see 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 it’s also necessary to 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 your middle managers to choose which approach feels most effective given the situation.

Partner with Middle Management to Enhance Your DEIB Strategy

Smart leaders partner with middle management to help ensure a successful diversity and inclusion strategy. But instead of just requiring your managers to implement initiatives, make sure you include them in building the strategy, communicate expectations, hold them accountable, and provide ongoing training. 

By equipping managers with the necessary skills and tool sets, you’ll empower them to become an active ally – one that’s invested in the growth, success, and day-to-day work experience of their teams.

Interested in using your people data to drive your DEIB efforts? Learn how you can make informed decisions and drive growth with the right people analytics platform. 

Watch the video here

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