Is Diversity and Inclusion the big hairy monster we all perceive?
It has been an interesting 2 days where I attended a HR leadership conference as well as being invited to be part of an in-house panel discussion. One common topic that surfaced and really caught my interest was Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). In my opinion, this is an important piece that has to be championed by not any specific function e.g. HR or D&I team, but instead, every single individual within the company! That said, leadership sponsorship is also necessary to ensure that someone is accountable for this change and strategy to work out.
Now, what comes to your mind when you think of D&I? Gender? Race? Nationality? I believe we can safely say that it is all of it. Some may also think of it as a big hairy monster that they are avoiding. But is that really the case?
Besides the gender, race and nationality aspect of D&I, I’ll also like to bring in 2 other components into the discussion – multi-generational workforce and the new workforce mix.
Tackling the multi-generational workforce
Increasingly, we are seeing the Millennial generation enter the workforce and slowly but surely, forming a huge part of it. This has resulted in a lot of attention being paid to them and rightfully so. However, companies should still realize that they are merely a part of the entire workforce. Which means, focus should instead be on the multi-generational workforce.
Nonetheless, paying attention to the Millennials is still critical but not from the perspective of simply giving them everything they want. Rather, it is about knowing what drives them, how can you get them to work better with the other generations and helping the others ease this group into the team. I believe that’s where the attention should be placed.
Let’s start by talking about Millennials. What can we do to ensure that they are taken care of? How do we retain them in this generation where loyalty seem to be the thing of yesterday? Are they simply demanding too much or are we behind time?
I suppose we need to recognize that despite the seemingly different traits that Millennials have, they are still human beings and similar to their predecessors in more ways that we have misperceived. What’s different is the phase of life and the form that the motivational drivers take in this current era. How do we then redefine what success means to them so that they can focus on the things that matter to them at work rather than get frustrated with things that are not aligned with their beliefs e.g. impact at work vs promotions and job titles? How do we redesign policies and structures so that flexibility is created for them to thrive? Are they really asking too much or have we just missed the point assuming what worked in the past has to work for this group of people?
On the other end of the spectrum, think about the senior employees. What are we doing to help them do their best at work? Are we writing them off because “they do not have sufficient runway” or are “simply too resistant to change”? How can we better include them and treat them fairly? After all, they do have a wealth of experience to be tapped on. What can we do better to also cater to their changing needs at this phase of their lives?
One must-have to address the multi-generational issue is mentoring and reverse-mentoring. This is a great way to bridge the gap of the different generations and harness their respective strengths. Only through recognizing of differences and in turn appreciating it can we help the multi-generational workforce align and deliver great results. Like I have mentioned, despite some differences primarily due to the phase of life, there are common themes across the groups. What we need to do is really to amplify the similarities and create a common language and goal for them to work towards.
Getting ready for the gig economy and rise of technology
Next, I came across this interesting term – the hot, warm and cold workforce. Hot represents the full-time employees, warm refers to the gig workers while cold points towards the robotics and technology companies use.
This is an interesting shift because we are probably accustomed to only defining our workforce as the group of full-timers within the company. With the rise of the gig economy and technological advancement, like it or not, the 2 other pieces will now also form the core of our workforce. Question is, how do we then manage them collectively?
In terms of the gig workers, most companies are probably still treating them like outsourced/insourced contractors at this moment. Do you want your contractors to deliver quality work or simply produce work that meets the basic expectation? If it’s the former, how should you then engage them to create the motivation for them to go the extra mile or at the very least, ensure that they have the company’s interest at heart?
Human beings are social creatures. What this means? They want to feel a sense of belonging. Gig workers would naturally also want to feel included as part of the big family. After all, they are also playing an important role of contributing to the company’s growth. Why are we treating them so differently just because they are on a different contract? Is it really difficult to just include them in team activities? Do we have a problem inviting them out for team lunches or even, involve them in discussions that affect their work?
Next, with the rise of technology, we need to consider how things like AI and robotics are going to change the way we work. What can we help the older generation ease into the adoption phase? How do we future-proof our employees at all levels? Do we want our employees to see it as an enabler or a threat to their job? How do we redesign work and job roles so that all these become a part of a holistic eco-system rather than a standalone piece?
D&I may sound like a big hairy monster that is out of reach for most companies. But if we think of ways to embed it into our everyday processes and tie it to business goals, it will no longer seem that daunting. By thinking of how we can include the various elements and groups as one, we are then in the position to tap on the full potential of what the workforce can deliver. As with any change management work, we have got to start small, build success stories to gain traction and then scale up from there to deliver the desired results.
Start being inclusive in every small way possible, embrace diversity and have a people-first mindset. Together we can create a better workplace for tomorrow.