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Elena Karchova


internal communication manager

Read more from Elena Karchova

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Seven lessons learned about implementing a diversity and inclusion programme

Seven lessons learnt about implementing a diversity and inclusion programme.

A lot has been said when it comes to implementing diversity and inclusion and building internal company programmes. Among the ‘by the book’ guidelines are: make it about the business; get executive support; have an agenda; find the right team; and engage early adopters. Here is a reality check and some real-life examples of what can go wrong – even when you think you’ve done it by the book.

Whilst training is a must, it’s not enough. If you want to enable and encourage change, you need to start with discussion. 

Let’s face it, it’s still hard to see real gender parity in our work and personal lives, based on the current rate of progress – this much is clear from the latest in the Global Gender Gap Report. At Ciklum, a group of our employees decided to take the matter into their own hands setting up an internal women’s network programme to try and speed the process of diversity implementation in the company.

The aim of the programme was to connect and support women by sharing inspiring stories, shining a spotlight on the workplace challenges faced by women, and learning how other successful companies approach gender equality agenda. Soon after giving the project a wholehearted green light internally, we realised that even when you know (or think you know) what you are doing and why you are doing it, the road to success can be bumpy. Here are the lessons we learned on the journey to growing a diversity programme.

1. Have realistic time expectations

Naturally, everyone is enthusiastic at the beginning of a project, and then the business reality kicks in. Sometimes your organisation committee or core project members won’t have the capacity to attend meetings and contribute, however much they would like to. Be mindful, therefore, of the time commitment required for the success of your initiative, make sure you discuss and agree this upfront with all parties involved.

2. Consider cultural differences

What works in the UK might not work for Spain, Ukraine, Poland, Pakistan, or the USA. Being aware and appreciative of cultural differences should be a top priority when launching any internal initiatives, especially if they address emotions or personal challenges, and come from the head office of the organisation. Whilst the initiative is young, it will take time for it to be implemented and understood locally. Ensure you make your project and communications as inclusive as possible from the very beginning and think about cross-cultural representation.

3. Formulate an agenda you can own

This turned out to be one of the key challenges in our project. Our discussions would shift from brainstorming, to a lively debate on whether we could 'do it ourselves', or whether something should instead 'be on the corporate agenda’. As expected with this type of project, you will probably have tons of great ideas to begin with, but a lot of the things we wanted to do would have required the involvement of many functions within the organisation. It was important to filter out all the ‘what-ifs’ to identify an agenda that was inspirational, attainable, engaging, and realistic at the same time.  

4. Be ready for scepticism

Any internal or external project that is likely to challenge behaviours and encourage change will have both supporters and critics. We expected our initiative to be met with open arms, but occasionally, there was scepticism and even antagonism from some employees, including women. Such comments can be discouraging. It shouldn’t stop you in your activities, but it helps both your motivation and the company communication to be prepared for such cases.

5. Appoint ambassadors

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, there are some common themes, but each individual’s story is unique. This brings home the fact that whilst training is a must, it’s not enough. If you want to enable and encourage change, you need to start with discussion. To do just that, we are launching Ciklum's SheDidIt campaign for International Women's Day 2021, sharing stories of women in our organisation. We’ve asked our participants to share what it means to be a woman in technology, what challenges they face, and how they overcome them. They’ll also be sharing what advice they would give to other women who are beginning their career journey. Appointing real company ambassadors and including employees of all levels will make your audience connect better.

6. Lead by example

It’s not all just about your company. We’ve learnt that inviting amazing women from other organisations to talk about their experiences became the inspiration boost we needed. Such events help shape the agenda, inspire employees internally, show different perspectives, and demonstrate that there is power in unity – and this gives hope.

7. Get the timing right

We launched our Women’s Network a couple of months before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Naturally, our agenda, plans and employee involvement had to be reconsidered. A lot of what we’d planned was put on hold. A global pandemic is an extreme example of force majeure, but even without a situation this drastic, it’s possible to get the timing wrong. Consider the bigger company picture before launching internal initiatives.

American author Brandon Mull said, “smart people learn from their mistakes, but the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others”. The lessons we offer here aim to make you aware of any possible pitfalls, so that you can develop diversity and inclusion initiatives that are successful from the very beginning.

Interested in this topic? Read Why gender equality relies on more learning and development for women.

Author Profile Picture
Elena Karchova

internal communication manager

Read more from Elena Karchova

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