How to embed diversity in the workforce

Liberty Martin is the US correspondent and columnist for DiversityQ. She is also a student at Columbia University and has written and produced podcasts for the Financial Times.

We interviewed Dayo Akinrinade from Your Startup Your Story (YSYS) and our Agility Through Diversity series to gain her insight on how to create a diverse and inclusive workforce. Read on to learn how to truly embed diversity and inclusion in your organisation, avoid “diversity fatigue” and get ahead of the “war for talent”.

YSYS are a community of founders, technologists, investors and creatives who are bound by a common mission to tackle inequality in London’s startup ecosystem and champion underrepresented founders. Dayo Akinrinade is YSYS Partnerships Lead and her expertise is borne from ten years Big Four IT Management Consulting.

Something we bring which is different from traditional consultancies is that our members are representative of the individuals that companies want to hire. When we advise, it’s coming first hand from the target audience – we have experience of working within the organisations that seek our advice.

Leverage an external perspective to drive the agenda

At YSYS, we are seeing a trend where organisations are experiencing diversity fatigue. Human Resources departments are managing multiple initiatives and measuring return on investment is a challenge.

If an organisation wishes to assess and strengthen their inclusive culture, we advise seeking an objective, external perspective. Company culture occurs within the organisations’ people and processes, therefore, employees can be too embedded within the culture to call out inequalities and effect change.

For example, FTSE 100 companies will carry out employee engagement surveys. Even if responses are confidential, certain employees will not feel comfortable to fill in boxes for sexuality, gender and then answer questions about the workplace. Sometimes there’s a lack of trust.

See also: The advantages of diversity for tech businesses

 

Dayo Akinrinade ysys agility through diversity how to embed diversity and inclusion in your organisation workforce
Dayo Akinrinade, partnerships lead and cofounder of YSYS

Ironically there is a “war for talent” because many companies are recruiting from the same pools, oftentimes just focusing on the top universities.

Dayo Akinrinade, partnerships lead and cofounder of YSYS

Embed diversity and inclusion in every business function

YSYS supports organisations on a journey towards a state where D&I is embedded into every organisational function. Companies must be willing to re-question everything they do with an open mind. It’s about listening to everyone’s voice, not just senior staff or who shouts the loudest.

A great example is recruitment, where companies source candidates from and the filtering criteria are often barriers to diversity. Are companies looking beyond obvious places for candidates? If recruitment is focused on the top universities, they, in turn, perpetuate a singular archetype of the employee which counters against innovation.
Ironically there is a “war for talent” because many companies are recruiting from the same pools, oftentimes just focusing on the top universities. Particularly in high-growth tech, we should offer alternative routes for talented people without degrees.

Here are some of Dayo’s tips for implementing diversity initiatives:

    1. Involve diverse individuals in driving change
    2. Include the “straight white male”
    3. Leadership needs to lead by example
    4. Practice advocacy

Involve diverse individuals in driving change. Develop initiatives alongside employees and the community. Don’t do change to them, do it with them.

Include the “straight white male.” Many companies have a black network or an LGBTQ network, these groups offer valuable support systems. However, I believe that it is important to involve non-diverse individuals in these groups, to enable them to understand the experience of diverse individuals and develop empathy.

Leadership needs to lead by example. At YSYS we help company leaders to “walk the talk”. We ask leaders to examine how much of their work and leisure time is spent with people of a different ethnicity or class. We ask them about the percentage of time socialising and working with diverse individuals. For us, that can be a revealing starting point.

Practice advocacy. Every company should clearly define what it means to be an advocate and aim to create a culture which accepts that we all carry bias and empowers employees to call it out. For example, a meeting chair should notice if an employee is spoken over in a meeting and advocate for them.

See also: The importance of diversity in IT and DevOps