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Improve your EDI Strategy in 5 steps

Updated: Oct 10, 2022

Last week we were honoured to bring you Mandeep Rupra, Head of EDI at national UK charity Citizens Advice, to share her journey of creating a culture of accountability, starting with the top of the organisation, and running through it, at every layer.

During the session we asked Mandeep about her top tips on ‘what not to do’ when trying to embed accountability, and we were so impressed by her answer that we are turning her gems of wisdom, gleaned over 20 years, into five simple steps you can take to make tangible and visible improvements.

1. Be specific about what you want to achieve

It is generally said that what get measured, gets done.

It is also said that you can’t know where you are going unless you know where you are at.

The first tip was to take time to discuss, analyse, and understand what you are trying to achieve as an organisation. Whether you are a charity that wants to improve senior leadership or trustee representation of racially minoritized groups, or a private sector organisation that wants to improve the experiences of people that are neurodiverse, it’s important to have a evidence driven basis for your focus area, and to prioritise the areas within EDI you want to make an impact.

This allows you to be targeted in your investment, and to build from a strong foundation. This includes:

  • Knowing your starting point

  • Communicating it across the organisation

  • Benchmarking yourself against sector averages

  • Developing a target that your organisation can get behind, and importantly, that leadership can own and champion.

2. Highlight the skills and talent you are missing out on

Have you heard of the deficit approach to EDI? Unfortunately, it is quite common in organisations that are just getting started and misunderstand or misrepresent the challenge at hand.

Similarly to the social model of disability, it is important to look at inequalities as something created by structures within society and your organisation, rather than any deficit, or lack of skills, talent or abilities of groups that are currently not thriving within those systems.

Your starting point should be that there are large cohorts of the community, society and potential workforce that are skilled, able and interested in working for your organisation, but due to a lack of inclusion, and systemic barriers are unable to access the opportunities.

One good example of the need to avoid the deficit approach is with women in STEM.

Often caring responsibilities, or taking career breaks are used as common reasons to explain the lack of senior female leaders. However research shows that women in STEM are in fact less likely to take a career break (The Royal Society).

Moreover, although slow, there has been progress. Since 2016, the number of women working in STEM fields has increased, and women now make up 24% of the STEM workforce in the UK. WISE have estimated that by 2030, they expect to reach over 29% of women in the STEM workforce (WISE Campaign), illustrating that the talent is out there, and organisations can improve their pipelines if they understand the data and intentionally become more inclusive of all.

3. Place responsibility for EDI on leaders and managers

It’s important to place the accountability and responsibility for making changes to equity, diversity and inclusion on the people within the organisation that have most influence, to expediate much needed, urgent change.

Often, unfortunately, organisations place responsibility on people that have shown an interest in EDI for personal reasons, e.g. because they have witnessed an injustice, or have had a personal experience of discrimination, rather that those who have power and privilege to make change happen.

It's important, as your strategy develops, to call in leaders and managers, and ask them regularly about what they are doing to create change in their teams, projects and initiatives.

It can seem more comfortable to rely on vocal advocates, or staff networks, however creating change is not their role. They support the organisation to understand their experience of underrepresented parts of the workforce, to provide peer support, and celebrate diversity in all its forms.

Placing responsibility on the ‘right people’ takes time, culture shift and education, but the rewards from getting this right, will see your strategy advance quicker, and take the burden from people who are experiencing the marginalisation within the workforce.

4. Listen to people with lived experience of inequities

Linked to points 1,2 & 3, listening to the voices and experiences of staff from the communities you want to see thrive in your organisation, understanding their talents and skills, and not placing a burden on them for change are all integral to taking a social justice approach to EDI.

Your strategy can only build performance if it is authentic and designed to acknowledge, trust and improve the lived experiences of people within your organisation.

Without making the time to listen, understand, learn, and be vulnerable as a leader, you risk efforts becoming tokenistic.

For example, do you remember the rebranding of 4 Royal Mail post boxes in Black History Month 2020? This move was heavily criticised as tokenistic due to the fact it didn’t offer any practical benefit to black people or help to create any useful change.

Avoid these well intentioned scenarios by working with people affected by marginalisation and historic structural inequalities to see what would support them the most based on their experiences.

5. Understand and recognise people who are leading on EDI within your organisation

Mandeep spoke about the toll that this work takes on her personally, given that she is often subject to the barriers and disadvantages she is seeking to improve, due to her identity as a South Asian Heritage woman.

It is important that organisations recognise that creating a culture of accountability is vital in ensuring the whole organisation gets behind, and works towards moving the dial towards increased equity.

A key part of the strategy should be celebrating success, recognising, and acknowledging the emotional labour of EDI leads, staff networks and EDI champions, and ensuring that policies and practices support their involvement and recognise the additional work they put into the organisation to reap the benefits of an improved workplace culture, staff experience and diverse talent pipeline.

To find out more from EDI experts, register free here to receive newsletters, and exclusive EDI Video Podcast invitations.

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