Diversity and Inclusion: Taking a Bite of the Elephant

The cultural landscape is littered with examples of companies that are falling short when it comes to diversity. Female CEOs make up less than 5% of the S&P 500, according to a recent study by Catalyst research. Women of color are struggling to gain a foothold in Facebook leadership roles, even when internal diversity data shows overall progress. Walmart and Dell EMC have been hit by gender discrimination complaints dating back years. The examples are all over current media, reminding us that we all need to do better.

At Genesys, we are not immune to the problem. We know that achieving true workplace diversity is important, and we care about moving the needle. Movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp are reminders that it’s not enough to acknowledge the need to improve or to just shake our collective heads and tweet our dissatisfaction. The question is: What can we do about it?

Well, the answer is: plenty. On an external level, we have joined community leaders to raise our voice for change in government legislation when it comes to bias crimes. And on an internal level, we have set in motion a plan to make 2019 the year Genesys will focus on diversity and inclusion. We recognize a diverse workforce is a critical component of a thriving community and for our continued success on the global stage.

We started by taking a long, hard look in the mirror and formalizing a process of self-examination to ensure leadership commitment and transparency about our hiring practices and employee demographics. For example, we are tracking gender demographics across Genesys as a whole, and we’ll review this data regularly to track our progress and re-calibrate metrics. Our goal is to ensure balance, equality, and opportunity across all aspects of our business.

We recognize this is an incremental journey. There is an African proverb that Bishop Desmond Tutu is said to have quoted: “How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Below are six practical steps that we are taking ourselves, to “eat the elephant.” We encourage other companies to do the same.

  1. Develop a Philosophy

Depending on the age of your organization, it’s likely there are different factors at play. A new company has an opportunity to get things right at the beginning. An established company, on the other hand, may need to engage in deep discussions about what they want the company to stand for, what its diversity goals should be, and what changes they’ll make to get there. Benchmarking against companies similar to yours can be very useful, but shouldn’t wholly define what you do—every company is different so a cookie-cutter approach will fall short.

Staying abreast of state and national laws is critical, too. New legislation to support diversity and inclusion is coming—and in some cases, it’s already here. Take California, for example. The state has a new law mandating that public companies incorporated or headquartered there must have female directors on their boards. No matter where you are in the process of becoming a more diverse and inclusive company, bear this in mind: This is not a ‘one and done’ situation. We must expect philosophies and working practice to evolve over time—and maybe faster than you think.

  1. Raise Awareness

Organizations have varying levels of commitment to diversity and inclusion, and whether you are an executive, HR professional, or engineer, the one thing you can do that costs virtually nothing is to raise awareness of these issues. There are many different levels of awareness. Some relatively simple ideas:

  • Create internal and external websites
  • Make a video explaining your philosophy
  • Share a blog post by your CEO (and make them write one from the heart!)
  • Introduce the topic regularly in team meetings
  • Allow a more diverse group to present at company events
  • Support affinity groups
  • Create a reading list with recommended books, articles and research to stimulate internal conversations and self-education

The more you shift the conversation to diversity, the more awareness you generate. It really is the first step to driving change of any kind.

  1. Define your metrics

They say you can’t manage what you can’t measure. It’s critical to have reasonably good data so you can track your starting point, identify trends and move toward a sensible goal. Many companies share this information internally—and even externally. It’s a great way to hold up the proverbial mirror to see how your company is truly doing. It’s also a subtle driver of change.

If you’re not sure where to start, consider gender. It’s the easiest thing to track because it’s globally relevant. But race, ethnicity, age, orientation status and more are also potential levers to objectively measure how diverse your teams are. Make sure any goals you set are both achievable and realistic for your geography and industry.

  1. Educate your people

Unconscious bias training is a no-brainer. Consider making it mandatory for all hiring teams. With ample options available online from numerous service providers, it’s easy to find this kind of training on-demand. You can also use it as a jumping-off point for discussion among recruiters, hiring teams and leaders.

  1. Set the tone

Your executives and the HR team must lead the way by committing and setting the right example. Most executive teams are simply not as diverse as they probably should be. Start by acknowledging your company has room to improve, and then take steps to move the needle. People tend to ignore what leaders say and pay much more attention to what they actually do. Help ensure their actions and words marry up, and managers will follow suit. Eventually, goals for diversity and inclusion will be considered a core competency for all executives. Get ahead of the curve and embrace accountability now.

  1. Acknowledge the shift

Creating a model workplace, where diversity and inclusion are considered “must haves,” is a goal that cannot be easily and quickly achieved. By committing to the task, we can begin to understand more clearly how to approach it. Begin with a philosophy that is true to you, then roll it out as an awareness campaign that includes basic metrics, education, and leadership accountability, and the conversation will naturally start to shift.

Diversity and inclusion enhance your competitive position in the marketplace, and senior leadership must be champions for it by holding managers responsible for meeting goals and evaluating outcomes. Ensure your leaders can see both the cultural impact as well as the return on investment.

The idea of hiring or promoting the best person for the team—and not just the job—will eventually become the norm. Underrepresented groups will experience increased visibility. Hiring and promotion practices will improve. Attrition will drop. Innovation will increase. And you’ll find that with focus, you really can make a difference.

The first step is to address the elephant in the room. The next step is to take one bite of it at a time. It won’t take as long to finish as you might think. It’s already happening and at companies far smaller than Genesys.

Won’t you join me in taking that first bite of the elephant?

A version of this blog was originally published on Thrive Global.