Improving Diversity Starts with a Culture Check

Diversity can help organizations foster a different belief system to drive different behaviors, says a new report by Walking the Talk. Diversity, the study says, can reduce the impact of “groupthink” and increase levels of healthy debate and challenge in an organization. That, says the report’s author, Amanda Fajak, can often enhance decision-making. In a related topic podcast, Helen Tudor and Rhona Gibson, diversity specialists from Sheffield Haworth discuss the state of diversity hiring.

March 3, 2021 – Every organization is unique and therefore any cultural transformation journey undertaken needs to be specifically tailored. According to a new report by Walking the Talk, diversity is one area where organizations have an opportunity to drive different behaviors and foster real change that go well beyond simply recruiting different people or doing different things, to where they are genuinely fostering a different belief system to drive different behaviors.

Diversity brings a difference in experience and perspective that can deliver positive results. The report says that diversity can reduce the impact of ‘groupthink’ and increase levels of healthy debate and challenge in an organization. “As such, it enhances decision-making,” said Amanda Fajak, the report’s author. “As diverse as your employee base is, you can be fairly sure that your customer base will be more so. Increasing the range of profiles within your organization to better reflect the range of profiles of your customers can increase customer understanding leading to improved customer loyalty.” Being open to the best person for the job means you can access the best talent for your business, regardless of gender or ethnicity, according to the report.

One would think that can only be of benefit for your business, but there are challenges. “If you employ a more diverse workforce but fail to adapt and amend the behaviors, symbols and systems within the business to let them thrive, you will create discord and harm,” Ms. Fajak said. “At Walking the Talk we have a deep understanding of the need to align what you say with what you actually do. It is such an important principle for successful cultures that we named ourselves after it.”

2021 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Recruiting Report:
Building a Balanced and Diverse Workforce

Hunt Scanlon Media’s latest market intelligence recruiting report – this time focused on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – will be available later this fall! The nation’s top executive recruiters are resetting expectations and looking for new ways forward to build balanced and diverse workforce teams for their clients.

According to executive recruiters, DE&I should not just be a priority, but an integrated part of every company’s leadership goals. Some companies have even tied DE&I metrics to executive compensation. But it’s more than that.

Part of building strong, diverse hiring teams means asking yourself: “Who is my company culture going to attract – and how will it engage people who are here?” This question can be very difficult to answer if you assume everyone feels welcome already just because you do. Fostering diversity, equity and inclusion within organizations is more than just the right ethical decision. “It is one of the best business decisions a company can make,” said Keri Gavin, a partner with Hanold Associates and leader of the search firm’s Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion practice. Hanold Associates is a proud sponsor of this year’s report. This report will help organizations prioritize DE&I as a business imperative that drives greater competitiveness, innovation and business results. Get it now! 

Do you take a top-down or bottom-up approach to diversity?

The solution is not an either or, you need both. The art is to be effective with your timing. “In our 25 years of experience we have found that the starting point is nearly always working with the executive and leadership of an organization,” said Ms. Fajak. “People get an understanding of their culture from what they hear people say, what they see people do and how the business is set up to get things done. The leadership control across these elements is such that without adaptation and change at this level any culture transformation is often stymied.”

 As a recognized international consultant, coach and cultural transformation agent, Amanda Fajak has experience in delivering business benefits through culture management. Following nearly 20 years of working with executive teams, senior leaders, and employees at all levels, she has a deep understanding of cultural diagnostics, culture planning and values development, as well as expertise in the process of cultural transformation within businesses to achieve strategic outcomes. Ms. Fajak has worked as a consultant across the U.K., Europe and Australia in a range of industries including utilities, energy, finance, travel, manufacturing and professional services. 

“Generally, it is only once the leaders are aligned and committed to the new cultural principles that you can really begin to build an effective force for change throughout the organization to reach your cultural tipping point,” said Ms. Fajak. “The principle behind this is that committed leadership will provide the time, financial resources and personal support behind something that they believe in. Trust is built across the business because of the alignment of walk and talk. Champions of diversity then have the opportunity to step forward and thrive in a supportive environment.”

Diversity Hiring Trends: A Look Forward & Back

In this brand new episode of ‘Talent Talks,’ Hunt Scanlon Media host Rob Adams is joined by Helen Tudor, global DE&I lead and Rhona Gibson, U.S. DE&I lead from Sheffield Haworth. These two experienced diversity specialists share their views on the current state of diversity hiring and how it has been impacted by the events of 2020. They also share how diversity recruiting differs in the U.S. vs. the U.K. Listen Now!

Ms. Fajak notes that it is often the easiest step to take is to find those members of your organization that already epitomize and role model the behaviors that are being sought. “Connecting with cultural advocates and giving them the tools and skills to spread their influence is one of the most powerful ways to drive organization-wide culture transformation,” she said. “Because the drive is from within the business the change feels authentic and organic, not consultant led.”

Walking the Talk notes a bottom-up drive accomplishes three things:

  • By creating a coalition of individuals throughout the organization with a similar mindset it starts to make a new norm more visible, tangible, and do-able in the organization.
  • It becomes more difficult for leaders to walk away from the change that they have started; it applies an implicit pressure, holding them to account.
  • Finally, the impact of peer behavior on others should not be underestimated, especially when a peer is part of a new movement. Peer to peer storytelling has the potential to send strong messages that the norms and standards of the organization are shifting.

Are culture changes a necessity?

Culture is a wider, more complex concept. “We need to have clarity about what we mean by diversity and what we mean by culture,” said Ms. Fajak. “Diversity is the make-up of your workforce in terms of physical characteristics and mindsets. Culture is the pattern of behaviors that are encouraged, discouraged, and tolerated, by people and systems, over time. You can have an extremely diverse workforce exhibiting an extremely unhealthy and unhelpful culture. Diversity is not, in isolation, a route to a thriving culture.”

Related: Recruiters Up Their Game in Diversity

But diversifying board seats is not sufficient to generate benefit. “Organizations have to be prepared to work on their culture,” Ms. Fajak said. “Any business in the financial sector that thinks they don’t really do culture is mistaken. You have a culture whether you manage it or not. Every organization has patterns of thinking and behaving which are being encouraged, discouraged, or tolerated. That is your culture. The question is whether it is a culture that you want and that contributes in a positive way to the business outcomes that you seek.”

Common Culture Issues

While each company will take a different journey to transform, Walking the Talk has found repeating culture themes across the finance sector. It can best be summarized as a deficit in two key behaviors. “The first behavior is the ability to see others’ perspectives,” said Ms. Fajak. “Sounds simple, but there is a humility of mindset not often found in financial services underpinning this. It involves debate, discussion, and openness. It directly supports diversity as it allows many voices to be heard. It improves decision making because the individual is encouraged to consider the wider view. To see another perspective, you often have to loosen the grip on your own beliefs.”

The second is trust. The report notes that many organizations are rushing to devise and implement lengthy conduct strategies, partly to meet regulatory requirements but also because tick-boxes and paperwork are being used as a substitute for trust. “Underpinning effective trust must be a robust, clear and well communicated risk strategy,” said Ms. Fajak. “The boundaries must be understood and the consequences enforced. This is a harder route than process checks and balances, but we would argue a necessary route if companies want to be the best that they can be. Interestingly we would expect to see both of these being fostered in a well-performing, diverse workforce.”

Related: To Improve Diversity, Recruiting Sector Must Set a New Course

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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