Workplace culture continues to come under scrutiny in today’s constantly changing and highly competitive market. One in four U.S. workers say workplace inclusivity needs improvement. Candidates have higher expectations for employers’ ability to cultivate an inclusive workplace culture and foster a diverse workforce.
In response, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) initiatives are becoming a priority for more workplaces. And while the responsibility to drive these efforts tends to fall on HR, they can no longer be viewed as solely HR initiatives, but rather, as organization-wide business imperatives.
While HR may be in the driver’s seat of developing DEI&B strategies, company leadership has a responsibility to help advance these policies in their organizations. They must lead by example to influence change from the top-down and encourage employees to carry the values of DEI&B across the entire organization. And although many executives recognize the importance of DEI&B in the workplace, they often lack a commitment to those efforts. Leadership buy-in and engagement require HR practitioners to make a compelling case and demonstrate how DEI&B can support overall business goals.
The Role of Leadership in Driving DEI&B
Prioritizing DEI&B is an all-hands-on-deck effort and company executives should be leading by example. Two-thirds of North American organizational leaders surveyed by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and SHRM say that DEI&B is a high strategic priority for their organization. Half of the respondents who view their organization as “not very successful” at DEI&B say a lack of leadership commitment hinders those efforts, whereas 77% of respondents from organizations with successful initiatives report that their executives demonstrate visible support for improving DEI&B.
Despite the clear need for leadership involvement, there is some uncertainty about who is responsible for implementation. According to a study by Chief Executive Group and SHRM, 84% of HR practitioners hold themselves responsible for implementing DEI&B while only 62% say the CEO is responsible. By contrast, 69% of board directors hold HR functions accountable while 82% view the CEO as responsible.
Whether this disparity is due to a lack of understanding about the connection between diversity and profitability, or discrepancies around responsibilities to implement DEI&B initiatives, executives are aware of their influence on workplace culture and morale. In fact, 97% of CEOs agree that their actions directly impact workplace culture.
Workplace culture is created through a shared set of values. When leadership and high-visibility employees collectively demonstrate a commitment to those values, it sets the tone for everyone else.
The Case for DEI&B with Leadership
We know we need to get leadership on board with DEI&B, but making the case can be a challenge. To succeed, HR practitioners must tell a strong, data-backed story and deliver a plan of action with clear measurable goals.
When building a case, HR practitioners should consider three key steps:
1) Take a data-driven approach
- Integrate data about your company’s performance and draw a connection to any deficiencies or past progress in DEI&B.
2) Set measurable and timely goals
- Based on existing company performance, identify key areas and opportunities for improvement that could be positively impacted by DEI&B.
- Create a launch timeline and note important milestones that will keep the business accountable and ensure an efficient roll-out.
- Set relevant KPIs that can be achieved through your proposed DEI&B strategy. These will allow you and the leadership team to easily track progress as the strategy is deployed.
3) Spotlight success stories
- Share how companies who have implemented successful DEI&B initiatives have seen improvements across their business.
- Highlight cases of peers and competitors with successful DEI&B programs that showcase metrics around improved financial performance, new investments, customer growth, and recruitment and retention.
- Build out the case with reputable third-party research that illustrates how DEI&B supports business growth. For example, recent research shows that companies with successful DEI&B initiatives outperform their competitors financially. Specifically, companies in the top quartile for workforce diversity have a 36% greater chance of outperforming those in the fourth quartile in profitability.
Creating Lasting, Positive Change in your Workforce
Making a business case for DEI&B is hard, but with the right steps you can make a convincing case to get the ball rolling. Use data to demonstrate DEI&B’s business impact and share an actionable strategy with measurable goals to get leadership on board.
Beyond building a business case, continuing education and training can be vital tools for enabling HR practitioners to foster positive transformation. SHRM's educational program and Inclusive Workplace Culture Specialty Credential equips practitioners with the necessary tools and insights to drive DEI&B strategies within their organizations. The program teaches practitioners skills like inclusive recruitment, hiring, and onboarding practices.
There’s a lot of work to be done, but you’re not in this alone. Learn more about the invaluable skills you can develop as an HR practitioner with SHRM’s educational program and Inclusive Workplace Culture Specialty Credential.