Removing the challenges minority ethnic employees face in the workplace requires the efforts of multiple stakeholders. These include the CEO and other executives, HR team members, network leads, and Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) practitioners. Often, we find that although these groups share the same goal, they fail to make meaningful progress. We wanted to understand why.
In our report The Middle, we interviewed these stakeholders and looked at their experiences of tackling organisational challenges hindering minority ethnic representation and advancement. There was strong consistency in their feedback. The data states that the lack of coherence and coordination between different stakeholder groups charged with advancing the minority ethnic agenda is the root of the issue.
Their frustration was evident. Time and again, the people we interviewed highlighted how coordination and accountability would have a profound positive impact on progress – both in achieving objectives but also in accelerating progress. In many cases, accountability was spread so thin as to be non-existent. One Network Lead shared: ‘No one is checking the checker’. In other words, managers were told to act one way, but no one made sure they did so, or asked them to explain their decisions if they did not.
What was standing in their way? Organisational siloes.
Siloed working is a classic organisational problem and we should not be surprised to see it playing a role in holding back D&I progress. However, the impact in this case is particularly egregious. The siloed approach can lead to mistrust that plays out in the form of withholding data, lack of support and accountability and, ultimately, a missed opportunity for a coherent, strategic and effective solution to improving the career experiences and representation of minority ethnic professionals at senior levels of the organisation.
Our interviews made it clear that informal solutions were not effective. After all, everyone said they wanted the same good outcome. But as daily workloads and competing priorities were added to the mix, communications broke down and progress stopped.
We discovered that the best chance of driving improvements in the experiences of minority ethnic employees came from formalising efforts under the banner of an official task force.
In The Middle, we offer a framework for building a collaborative D&I task force. By following this framework, you can avoid common pitfalls and increase your effectiveness.
Starting point: Understand your data
Diversity and Inclusion work cannot happen in an uninformed vacuum. Before you stand up a collaborative team to tackle problems, you need to be able to arm the team with the data which identifies the key issues. Start by reviewing your HR data. Trends from engagement surveys and progression and retention data can provide useful insights into pressure points and levers for change in the business. Use these data points, together with any lived experience data, to identify the overarching goal of the taskforce.
Tackling racism in the workplace is wider than any one person or one team’s remit. When identifying potential members for your collaborative team, you should think broadly and ensure that the team is inclusive of senior executives who will bring accountability to the group. The HR department is a logical starting point, as their expertise in both people matters and D&I methodologies will be useful.
Make sure you consider what other viewpoints could be useful at the table, particularly when it comes to sharing personal experiences and/or acting as a sounding board for potential solutions.
We suggest you round out the team by recruiting a diverse group across roles, levels of decision-making authority and racial/ethnic identity. Diversity and scope to challenge, as well as a safe and respectful space, will mitigate against groupthink.
Mission statements and terms of reference
Clarity and alignment around a common set of objectives is key to success. Writing a mission statement and terms of reference should be the first task of the new group leader.
Together, the team should set forth the overarching goal, ensuring it is in alignment with what organisational data is available. The terms of reference should identify secondary goals such as building trust and credibility, acting with transparency, and improving formal HR processes.
If achieving the secondary goals will require specific efforts, these should be identified as strategic pillars with their own goals and resources. The terms of reference should set out the composition of the taskforce, frequency of meetings and length of term.
Leadership and accountability
Like all other areas of the business world, your collaborative D&I taskforce must have clear lines of responsibility and accountability. From day one, the taskforce should have a chair, deputy chair, and co-ordinator, each with clear roles and responsibilities.
If the taskforce needs to be split into smaller interest groups, each focused on addressing one of the strategic pillars, the smaller interest groups should also have a chair, deputy chair, and co-ordinator. The leadership of both the overall taskforce, as well as any interest groups, must ensure that progress is reported at the agreed meeting schedule.
To ensure their new roles and responsibilities are given the appropriate priority alongside their day job tasks, these should be added to their personal objectives and reviewed regularly.
Monitoring progress within the taskforce
Your new collaborative D&I taskforce should never go silent. Your coordinators should manage a progress reporting tool to track activities and progress. A standardised template will facilitate comparison, holding everyone equally accountable and providing opportunities to share successes. Regular meetings should be used to encourage cross-group learning, share good practice, and learn the lessons of successes and challenges.
Reporting progress to the wider organisation
Equally important is providing progress updates to the organisation as a whole. Keeping the wider organisation informed and engaged will help maintain accountability, momentum and transparency. Hold open forums to share plans, report on progress, encourage questions and offer answers and information. Share success stories widely.
Throughout the process, the taskforce should leverage available channels of communication to stay connected with different parts of the business. Good channels may include the intranet, quarterly townhalls or communications from senior leadership.
The Middle describes how collaborative action can unlock the unique value and power of stakeholder groups to create an integrated, strategic and aligned approach. Use collaborative action to increase the likelihood that available insights, authority, power and commitment builds to a momentum that will shift the dial.