July 27, 2022

Above all others, managers are in a pivotal position to make DEI work. Here are a few pre-emptive actions you can take to position managers as an asset to your DEI strategy rather than a detractor.

When it comes to culture, let’s agree that creating change is everyone’s responsibility. No one person or group of people holds the exclusive power to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive culture. However, some people do have the ability to affect change in a particularly dramatic way. They are “people managers” who interact with and influence employees on a day-to-day basis.

According to the 2022 Global Culture Research Report from SHRM, “Nearly 9 in 10 workers (87 percent) indicated that their manager contributes to setting their work team environment.” But there are troubling signs. The report goes on to say that “More than 4 in 10 workers (42 percent) have witnessed inconsiderate treatment of a co-worker by a manager in the past year.” SHRM cautions that “Inconsiderate behaviors like bullying or gossiping are destructive when left unaddressed. When supervisors are untrustworthy or insensitive to the needs of their workers, it isn’t long before work environments become toxic. Workers need to feel safe in their workplace, and an integral component is ensuring all workers are treated with respect.”

So, how can we work with managers to ensure they are part of creating a healthy and inclusive work environment that promotes diversity? Let’s look at why managers, above all others, are in a pivotal role to make DEI work. And let’s explore what pre-emptive actions you can take to position managers as an asset rather than a detractor.

Engage managers right from the start

To become invested in diversity, equity and inclusion, managers need to be fully engaged at the onset of conversations. Your DEI program must be established as a business (not just HR) initiative, with the benefits clearly spelled out. You can do this by being armed with research on why DEI is critical to building high-performance teams, and explaining the rationale on how DEI will benefit your particular company. 

As your pre-planning (or re-evaluating of your current plan) commences, look at how managers can be brought into your first critical steps. 

Set (or reinforce) your ambition

The first step is often the hardest. Bring managers in to provide input on some tough questions, such as: How committed is your organization to starting the journey towards a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce? What are you trying to accomplish and why? Design your program around the idea that some managers (and employees) will embrace DEI, while others will need more support to understand and appreciate the need for change.

Assess and diagnose

Begin the process by assessing and diagnosing your company’s DEI situation. What is your starting point? Have you taken steps already? What worked? What does your organization say? What do your metrics tell you? Work with managers to establish your DEI baseline. Advice from a recent research report from Wharton includes the need to lead with data, “Show middle managers reports revealing how D&I improves innovation and boosts the bottom line. Find internal analytics that show how D&I or lack thereof has impacted the workplace.”

Create (or improve) your plan

Bring managers into the planning process. Get their input as you set your goals and strategy toward creating (or improving) a concrete, multifaceted DEI program. Make sure the program is realistic, appropriately resourced, and has a clear implementation plan. Focus on creating an enabling environment that prioritizes manager involvement. 

The best way to engage managers in the steps above will depend on the communication techniques most effective for your organization. For instance, if you are a small organization, then facilitated all-manager meetings can be effective. If you are a large and widespread organization, you may consider localized manager focus groups, as well as tapping into existing manager checkpoints. 

Establish a learning environment, with focus on empathy

Because each DEI journey is unique to every organization, there will be a fair amount of exploration along the way—and managers can be an integral part of that discovery process. Prepare them to understand there will be forward movement, as well as some setbacks along the way. Remember, you don’t need to have all the answers, and neither do your managers. 

You do need the desire to establish a learning environment, where some trial and error is expected and where both individual and system-wide discoveries lead the way. Experts at Deloitte put it this way, “A holistic DEI learning strategy is about more than reacting to today’s environment – it is about developing the conditions for long-term behavior changes.”

In a learning environment, having annual training along with year-round complementary activities (ie., employee resource groups and mentorship) can create a powerful mix. Ensure your education, training and other activities put the focus on empathy. 

According to research from SHRM, “There is overwhelming consensus among workers that empathy is an essential quality of a healthy workplace (94 percent agree). Yet only half of workers said their organization offers empathy training for people managers. There are staggering differences between organizations that offer empathy training and those that do not.” 

SHRM’s research report goes on to state: “Organizations that fail to offer empathy training leave themselves vulnerable to turnover. Such training is shown to boost engagement and satisfaction. Done the right way, people management can be the difference between employee empowerment and a talent drain.” As you shape your learning environment and assess your training needs, you’ll need to create opportunities that specifically address the unique DEI needs of managers

Engage managers with practical tools and strategies

Once managers have been given the opportunity to contribute to the planning process and are exposed to annual education and training, along with complimentary activities, help them use what they have learned, with a focus on practical and functional aspects of DEI. 

Managers’ days are filled with ongoing responsibilities. Being clear and specific about their involvement will get you on the right track. Starting with recruitment and moving on to other management responsibilities, here are some concrete steps managers can take to make their practices more inclusive.

Read the full article in Talent Management

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Veronica Bocian