According to a recent Culture Amp survey, the drive to inclusive workplaces could stall without more senior-level support and better resources. Aubrey Blanche, Senior Director of Equitable Design, Product & People, discusses the implications and importance of focusing on anti-racism.
“If you build a foundation of anti-racism within your DE&I practice, you’re going to set yourself up to create the most inclusive environment for all people,” says Aubrey Blanche.
“Companies overwhelmingly focus on gender; race is sort of second and disability a distant third. When companies start with gender, they end up building programmes that primarily benefit straight, economically privileged White women. So, you then make trade-offs because you forget about women of colour, queer women, non-binary people, etc.”
She recommends that organisations follow the example of Culture Amp, an employee experience platform, by making “intentional design decisions.”
Equitable design means as Blanche explains: “Specifically designing for the equity of experience, considering intersectionality to achieve our commitments. That includes writing cheques because there’s no way around the fact that this takes investment.”
Resourcing – or lack of – featured highly in Culture Amp’s survey of nearly 300 organisations worldwide, combined with employee experience data from more than 1.1 million respondents. The results, published earlier this year, showed that only one-third of respondents felt their DE&I role was adequately resourced. Worryingly, nearly half (44%) said they were not part of the company’s leadership team where they could obtain the resources to support diversity, inclusivity, and equity initiatives.
The research also showed that while nearly 32% of organisations had created a DE&I role in the last 12 months – corresponding with the first phase of Covid and Black Lives Matter in the wake of the murder of George Floyd – only four in ten (39%) had a dedicated DE&I employee. Nine out of ten DE&I professionals were drawn from HR or People roles, and 71% of HR and DE&I managers were predominantly White.
On the plus side, Blanche says that the way that Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate’s advocacy had driven investment in employee experience was a cause for optimism. She adds: “The research shows that, when investments are made, they are effective, or can be, in driving change.”
Leadership team support
When asked why there is a reluctance to create dedicated DE&I roles and include them at the senior level, she points out that “White men hold the most power.” There was little understanding in boardrooms about what needed to change, plus fear of accountability.
Blanche contrasts this with her own experience at Culture Amp, where support from the leadership team has enabled her to help the organisation succeed in creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.
“Many companies want the PR benefit of saying they care, but they’re not ready to do the work,” she argues. “When they do the work, we see them engaging in the same practices they would for any other business priority. So, collecting data, appropriately resourcing it, setting ambitious but achievable targets, and building an operating plan against that. Although there is specialised expertise required for DE&I change work, progress is largely a matter of will and commitment of the leadership team.”
DE&I professionals need corporate skills
About a third of the new DE&I practitioners hired in the past 18 months had tended to be recruited from lower down the organisation. DE&I professionals needed to have a good understanding of anti-racism practices, gender and sexism, disability and access theory.
Blanche explains: “A lot of the passionate advocates know the social justice content, which is incredibly important for designing principles in the way you work. But I also think that DE&I professionals need some of the best influence and stakeholder management skills in the business because they’re inherently in a career about soft power.
“They need to be able to manage different relationships with people. There’s an element of coaching for all levels and change management. Corporate skills wrapped around subject matter expertise make you effective at driving change. It’s what separates passionate advocates from effective professionals.”
Interestingly, she believes that a DE&I person coming through HR is not necessarily bad if the company is at the beginning of the journey. That’s because foundational change often has to be run through the HR team. However, it will not be successful if DE&I remains siloed within HR and unsupported by senior leadership.
Gather and interpret data
In addition to founding DE&I practice on anti-racism, Blanche recommends that companies need to gather data and interpret it in the right way. “To butcher Tolstoy a little bit,” she says with a smile.
“Every inequitable organisation is inequitable in its own way. Data will allow you to identify the gaps and where those gaps are evolving and changing over time. Because, as you grow and change, different challenges will come up for different populations.
“The most important thing you can do is collect data on the lived experience of employees. That means demographic data – who’s in the building – and inclusion or experiential data, which you can collect via a survey. At Culture Amp, we provide guidance on this and offer our DE&I template as a resource.”
She says that, when conducting surveys, it was important not just to focus on the numbers. You should also look at which groups were marginalised; in other words, ask who was being left out. This way, “You’re creating a better culture for all by focusing on people who are least likely to have access to that great experience, which ultimately improves the experience for everyone. Again, it’s what we call equitable design. When you do DE&I work, you’re looking to design systems that have more equitable outcomes.”
Culture Amp recently released its 2021 Equitable Design & Impact report. In 18 months of making anti-racism commitments, the company has exceeded the population-level representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) employees. Blanche says it’s been achieved by investing in recruiting BIPOC employees – especially leaders –and building leadership development programmes that drive racial equality. They also invest in issues of disability and accessibility. Culture Amp knows the area it needs to focus on and invest in by virtue of collecting data.
Building equity creates inclusion and diversity
What makes Blanche particularly proud is how the company conducts audits of their core performance, promotion, and pay processes, including a zero-tolerance policy for inequity. In addition to this structural work, Culture Amp also celebrates cultural events, such as Black History Month. This is a core component of equitable design: investing not only in the visible aspects of DE&I but the foundational ones as well.
She says: “We think about the equity and inclusion aspect, and diversity pops out at the other end. By building equity, you create inclusion and diversity. One of the exciting things about the survey report is the unique data set where we can tell you which initiatives move the needle on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“This is an amazing way to begin building your business case. Take it to your boss and show them the impact that giving you the resources can have. The biggest excitement to come out of the report is that practitioners can use it to drive their work forward.
“We’re starting to think how Culture Amp can invest further in helping our customers on their DEI journey because we’re seeing an influx in folks asking, ‘What should we do now?’ or ‘How do we make progress?'”
Finally, Blanche emphasises the three things companies need to do to build DE&I within their organisations: make a commitment, collect data, and develop a plan.