Reflections on the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report
Media Coverage 6th April 2020 5 minutes read
Lawyer and entrepreneur Garth Dallas says:
If equality and diversity together are embedded within a comprehensive strategy, we then lead towards creating an inclusive environment, which is one in which every single individual believes that they have a stake and they are able to achieve and fulfil their potential.
When it comes to creating an inclusive working environment, Garth talks about the four pillars of inclusion within an organisation. The first pillar is CEO commitment, top leadership buy-in to inclusion. This commitment is most clearly expressed as an understanding of the investment and effort that’s required, along with an expectation of ROI. The second pillar is HR management. This covers how an organisation recruits, retains and empowers people to develop their full potential.
The first two pillars are widely recognised. Garth’s third and fourth pillars are more likely to be missed by organisations. The third is supplier diversity. If an organisation’s supply chain isn’t diverse then it can’t create a truly inclusive environment, as an organisation’s boundaries are not fully described by its employees alone.
The networks and value chains within which they are situated may appear peripheral, but conceptually they are as much a part of the organisation as its employees. After all, nothing gets done without suppliers. Miss them out of your inclusion strategy and you immediately limit the competitive advantages that diversity brings to an organisation. All suppliers need to feel that they have a stake in the organisation, which is a good reason to think of them as partners and honour them as participants in the organisation’s success.
The fourth pillar of inclusion is community engagement. We have widened our view of diversity and inclusion commitment from the senior leadership, to HR management, to suppliers. Now we recognise the communities within which the organisation is embedded. We commit the organisation to engaging with and empowering the internal and external community so that members of the community feel that the organisation belongs to them as first-class stakeholders. The organisation should be a part of them, and they should be a part of the organisation.
Garth’s vision is logical, and all four pillars align with corporate rhetoric about diversity and inclusion. In my experience, authentic commitment to the pillars tends to fade from the centre out but each organisation has its own ‘heat map’. There has been some progress on boards and in HR departments. Less is being done to promote inclusion in supply chains, while community engagement tends to be sporadic or gestural. But organisations are on a journey and it’s not helpful to browbeat them about their lack of progress on any of the pillars.
Organisations need our help to develop and embed best practices. And, while measuring their progress is important, it is also vital to encourage them to be the best they can be by benchmarking them against their peers or competitors. While specific solutions generally cannot be cut and pasted between organisations, successful practices backed up by evidence offer a growing wealth of ideas for successful implementation.
Each pillar invites a different kind of investment. Ensuring CEO commitment (Pillar 1) entails not just effective selection and coaching of senior leaders but also creating and sustaining a diverse leadership capability which competently understands the benefits of diversity. Without investment and credible action by the first pillar it will be difficult to get traction with the other pillars.
HR management requires investment to ensure that the organisation’s recruitment, retention and development processes contribute to embracing diversity and inclusion in all their aspects.
Investment in supplier diversity will need more creative thought than investment in the first two pillars. This is largely because less has been done in this area. But it’s also because supplier partnerships are traditionally approached from the viewpoints of risk, quality and cost. Organisations may believe they can’t prioritise inclusion in their supplier relationships because their procurement requirements limit them to functional and economic criteria.
Additionally, they may believe that minority owned and run businesses don’t have the necessary skills or experience to compete for the organisation’s business. From this restricted point of view, forming partnerships with more diverse suppliers represents a business risk or comes from a quasi-charitable position.
The answer is not to abandon the ambition to partner for diversity but to take proactive steps to develop the potential supplier community to the point where objections on the grounds of cost, quality and risk are removed. This means mentoring or partnering with minority suppliers and helping to develop their capabilities. For example, a construction labour scheme in Liverpool commits the city council to hiring contractors with a set proportion of minority suppliers within their chains.
There is no reduction in the required skillset. Instead, suppliers invest in ensuring that tradespeople from local minority communities get the training they need to upskill themselves, while mentoring them to ensure that quality is not compromised. Large organisations which recognise the strategic value of their suppliers have long invested in developing technical capabilities throughout the supply chain. Diversity and inclusion fit well into this tradition of self-interested outreach.
Nurturing diversity and inclusion in the supply chain is also important from the legal compliance point of view. Third-party harassment has become a major issue in case law relating to the Equality Act 2010. If an organisation’s member of staff is harassed by someone working for a supplier, the organisation can be held liable. This brings home the fact that suppliers are an extension of the organisations with which they work.
It is sensible to guard against this kind of legal risk by ensuring that suppliers understand and buy into the organisation’s commitment to creating an inclusive culture. In this way, compliance can be an ally of the drive for competitiveness through diversity. In summary, if we want more difference, we must work with more experts who have that difference in their networks and a lived experience of the difference the customer wants to access.
The fourth pillar – involving the wider community – may seem at first to be well covered by leading organisations. This is because companies have long appreciated the publicity value of associating themselves with local charities and community enterprises and of contributing to national and international causes and events. However, these initiatives do not always have very deep roots in the organisation and may not reach very far into local populations. The credibility of the brand and a level of trust in the stated purposes are key. If trust is low, the penetration into and engagement with the community will be low.
Comment by Raj Tulsani, leader of Green Park ,an award-winning consultancy that offers Executive Search, Interim Management, Board Advisory, Diversity & Inclusion and Managed Service People Solutions across the private, public and third sectors and author of Diversity and Inclusion for Leaders: Making a Difference with the Diversity Headhunter (Green Park Publishing 2019)
This article was published in Irish Tech News, on April 2nd 2020.