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Becky Norman


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National Inclusion Week 2022: L&D must not make excuses for shoddy inclusion efforts

For National Inclusion Week 2022, we explore what is hampering greater inclusion efforts within learning and development.

The theme for National Inclusion Week 2022 – Time to Act: the Power of Now – is a call for organisations to take a more action-focused approach to inclusion that creates impactful change.

We are now well versed in the importance of workplace equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB). Yet when it comes to progress, businesses have been found wanting. UK research conducted across 2020 and 2021 found nearly a third of people have felt excluded or marginalised at work due to their beliefs, personal circumstances or identity.

Contributing to this poor progress is the assumption that diversity and inclusion is HR’s problem to solve. If left working in isolation on creating an EDIB initiative, HR will undoubtedly struggle to affect real change. It is the responsibility of every individual and team to reflect on how inclusive their culture, policies, processes, actions and behaviours are.

Inclusion, like all good things, starts ‘at home’, with you"

This is especially pertinent for the learning and development function. With its responsibility for enabling growth, opportunities and potential, a non-inclusive L&D set-up is a key instigator of an organisation’s glass ceiling.

To uncover what is hampering greater inclusion within learning and development, TrainingZone sought the opinions and guidance of three experts in the EDIB and L&D space. 

Inclusive L&D must start at home

For award-winning learning consultant Lior Locher an inclusive L&D approach will only be fruitful if the L&D team itself is diverse.

“Inclusion, like all good things, starts ‘at home’, with you, where you are and the decisions you take on a day-to-day basis,” Locher states.

Learning leaders should assess the demographics of their team and whether it is representative of the community/broader population in the organisation’s location.

“Look at your pipeline, where and how you hire and promote. Connect with your local community and see what you can learn and who is out there. Not every CV might be as seamless as yours if you are in a position of privilege or were lucky enough to not have had any major setbacks so far,” Locher says. “You work in Learning. Be the place that gives people chances.”

It’s not just about an inclusive in-house team. You should also factor in external suppliers, such as training facilitators, content providers and contractors, Locher flags.

“I’ve seen cadres of trainers or coaching pools that are former senior employees of the organisation or spouses of current senior leaders (I wish I was kidding). While there are benefits to organizational expertise and closeness, this will replicate biases and exclusion and the societal status quo from (sometimes) decades ago.”

“Open it up and give a broader set of people (paid!) work, and not just for whatever special commemoration month in the year it is right now. If you work internationally, there are thought leaders and brilliant thinkers and doers and facilitators outside the anglosphere (and they speak English, too). Find them.”

L&D must not make lack of C-Suite buy-in an excuse 

Alongside a dearth of diversity in L&D teams, another obstacle is the lack of L&D influence among the C-Suite. 

This issue was flagged by Yetunde Hofmann, a board-level executive leadership coach and mentor; global change, inclusion and diversity adviser; and founder of SOLARIS – a pioneering new leadership development programme for black women. 

“A barrier to the ability of L&D fulfilling its potential is the lack of adequate presence at the decision-making table and the current funnel via the HR Lead that happens,” Hofmann states. “Nevertheless, this should not be an excuse. There is plenty that can still be done.” 

The more diverse your network, the more diverse your thinking will be."

Hofmann offers five key actions for L&D professionals.

1. Challenge the status quo regarding who can learn together

Having people at different hierarchical levels in the business learning together will accelerate inclusion.

2. Get to grips with the hurdles minority groups face

Be proactive in understanding the potential barriers to learning and development faced by people from underrepresented groups across the organisation. Consult them at every stage of the design and delivery, and implement their views.

3. Apply a customer relationship management (CRM) approach

Whilst it is important to have corporate learning and development initiatives that promote a recognisable culture to underpin your values, your people are unique. Ensure sufficient representation of diversity in your corporate programmes and develop offerings tailored to specific underrepresented groups.

4. Demand measurement

The saying ‘you measure what you treasure’ could not apply more today. The pressure on organisations to deliver on the bottom line and keep to promises of percentage and margin growth has never been higher. Tracking mechanisms by which they can be held accountable are in place. The same must apply to the return on investment of learning and development designed to facilitate inclusion.

5. Diversify your network and focus on your own growth

The more diverse your network, the more diverse your thinking will be. This will translate into the nature and style of your delivery – who you involve and why, the challenges you raise and the sources of information, supply and delivery you go to.

Culture change is essential to sustainable progress

For Nathan Nalla, Founder and Director of Be The Riot, EDIB-focused learning initiatives must impact the culture otherwise they lack substance. “I see organisations celebrating their initiatives while inequity in their workforce remains,” Nalla states.

“The aim should be to address the challenges within your organisation and introduce sustainable solutions. One-off interventions or initiatives that don’t directly tackle the priority issues should be scrapped.”

Instead, your efforts are better spent contributing your expertise to an organisational-wide culture change drive that is measurable.

Nalla asserts the importance of getting to grips with the data and asking the following:

  • What are the specific EDI issues we’re facing as an organisation?
  • Are there certain aspects of diversity that people are uncomfortable speaking about?
  • Do your people know how to challenge bias and prevent discrimination?
  • Do your people feel a sense of inclusion and belonging?

Don’t assume that your initiatives are making an impact, measure the impact.”

By collating responses on this, you should get a strong sense of the state of your organisation’s EDIB. Next up, identify your EDIB challenges through:

  • Diversity monitoring data
  • Employee engagement surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Forums
  • One-to-one interviews

Nalla flags here that while the above can be used for measuring success, they don’t monitor behaviours: “Tracking behaviour change isn’t easy but some organisations use their performance review processes to monitor employee behaviours based on EDI principles.”

Nalla concludes his advice with a memorable takeaway: “Don’t assume that your initiatives are making an impact, measure the impact.”

Time to act

There is so much more L&D teams could be doing to bolster its impact on EDIB – holding up the mirror to its own diversity issues is just for starters.

We need to drop the siloed initiatives and become part of an organisation-wide drive (that is measurable!) to cultivate an inclusive culture.

Let’s stop with the excuses and harness the power of now.

Interested in this topic? Read TrainingZone's report, in association with the Open University on L&D's role in boosting social mobility.

Author Profile Picture
Becky Norman

Managing Editor

Read more from Becky Norman

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