Opportunities to Make DEI a Fundamental Part of L&D
In CGS's 6th annual survey at the end of December 2020, 176 L&D professionals and Line of Business leaders shared their feedback on how the pandemic has impacted their 2021 plans, both in the short-term and long-term.
They also provided key insights into the challenges, opportunities and business drivers shaping their strategies going forward. What emerged were clear metrics and indicators of trends and areas of focus: building resilience, adaptability and flexibility; employee engagement and experience; the need for responsiveness and continuous learning.
But as the Director at of an organizational well-being consultancy, I was struck by an apparent discrepancy in priorities: Nearly three-quarters of L&D leaders are placing a high (or the highest) priority on increasing engagement and employee experience. In fact, almost 90 percent of leaders have identified engagement and experience as a priority in some capacity – with the area leading the overall rankings.
Yet only one-third of L&D leaders say that as they work on plans with line of business executives this year, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) ranks as one of the three top priorities or metrics.
Only one-third of L&D leaders say that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) ranks as one of the three top priorities or metrics.
Inclusion is central to employee experience and L&D. If learning materials aren't inclusive – both in content and delivery – they'll fail to reach their audience. And even more saliently, if an employee is feeling a broader sense of exclusion, or a lack of belonging in the general work environment, even the best learning plans won't stop them from becoming demoralized and disengaged.
DEI should effectively be the driver of L&D, not an afterthought. If you seek to serve the most vulnerable or marginalized people, you'll reach everyone.
“I have been deeply inspired by a close family member who had a profound hearing disability, yet who persevered and impacted the world around her in significant ways. It heightened my awareness to how those with diverse experiences often find creative ways to solve problems and think outside the box. I knew that I wanted to do everything I could to create an environment that brings out the best in every team member—and also one that leverages the power of their perspective to accelerate business results.” – Marilyn Carter, senior operations manager, Cisco Systems
For example, designing an upskilling experience where the baseline is determined by the top 20 percent of performers is unlikely to effectively impact the bottom 20 percent; whereas an experience designed to capture the bottom will be better equipped to differentiate and bring everyone into scope.>
And given the documented racial bias that has appeared in technology, even emerging efforts around adopting new technologies and incorporating AI, robotics and chatbots should be done with DEI in mind.
But this is not just a trend – diversity, equity and inclusion are mission-critical long-term and have a tangible return on investment.
Research has found that when firms prioritize building a diverse workforce – across gender, race, age, veteran status, work styles, class, ability, religion and more – they experience a wealth of benefits. People from diverse backgrounds enhance creativity, innovation, knowledge, perspectives, experiences and idea generation – in addition to building a more supportive and inclusive environment that allows for strong retention.
While many people may think of the outcomes of diverse workplaces as intangible, these workplaces also benefit from a number of gains made in productivity, growth, profit, market share and bottom-line. The Fluor Corporation measures diversity and inclusion through productivity and engagement in company performance. And the Sodexo Corporation, for example, exponentially increased its return on investment through D&I initiatives. For every $1 it has invested in mentoring, it has seen a return of $19, according to Dr. Rohini Anand, the company’s senior vice president and global chief diversity officer.
“We believe supporting diversity throughout our global logistics network is a winning strategy. In IT and engineering, we know that a diverse and inclusive team drives innovation faster, and that’s critically important to our business and our customers. It drives economic development in local communities, encourages innovation, and ultimately enhances UPS’s products and services for our customers. Simply put, diverse partners bring fresh and innovative approaches to our business,” – Juan Perez, chief information and engineering officer, UPS
And they're not alone. Broader research across almost 2,000 businesses has found that companies with "above-average diversity" experience 19 percent points higher innovation revenues.
Ultimately, investing in employee development is certainly one strategy that will enhance their employee experience, engagement and improve retention. After all, feeling like people care about us (and our future) taps into one of our basic psychological human needs. But if L&D initiatives aren't created with diversity and inclusion in mind, these efforts will miss the mark.