The Practical Steps Businesses Can Take To Improve their DEI Strategies

It’s well known that diverse and inclusive companies are the most innovative and successful, and history has taught us that the best employees don’t necessarily come from the same socioeconomic backgrounds, universities, or ethnicities.

But with so much buzz around the DEI subject, as a business owner or HR manager, it can sometimes be difficult to cut through the noise and identify the practical steps that you can take now that will drive sustainable change in the long-term.

Waseem Ali, CEO and Amy Foster, Director of Talent at Rockborne – A data consultancy firm under Harnham Group – are on a mission to change the face of the data industry by opening the scheme to STEM and non-STEM graduates from a wide range of backgrounds and supporting companies in hiring them.

So, we thought, who better to share a few practical tips on what businesses can be doing now.

Overcome the fear factor by speaking to people – Waseem Ali

When it comes to DEI, the reality is that some organisations are too scared to put pen to paper. There’s a lot of pressure for companies to get it right, and big consequences if they miss the mark. Because of this, some choose to stay silent all together to avoid backlash.

But we need to move past this fear factor, and be ‘human’ about it, by speaking to one another. Talk to your workforce to find out what is working well and what isn’t.

And if you want a diverse workforce you’ll need to engage with a diverse range of people – so try to speak to different individuals about why they would or wouldn’t apply for a job at your company, own it and act on it. There will be other business leaders in similar situations, or who may be doing well, so open those lines of communication so that you can share knowledge with each other.

Companies should never be afraid to have these conversations and highlight their failures if they want to create sustainable growth.

Focus on appreciation rather than understanding – Amy Foster

The wariness that surrounds DEI discussions is often compounded by the fact that many people believe that business leaders need to understand every different type of diversity. Whilst it’s true that there are many resources out there for businesses to educate themselves on different cultures and backgrounds, that doesn’t mean that employers have to understand everything.

I will never understand what it’s like to be a different ethnicity or gender, but I can appreciate what they might be experiencing. There is a tendency to over-engineer solutions and often that isn’t necessary – employers should try to focus on the listening and appreciating element, rather than getting hung up on complete understanding.

Keep an open mind with your candidate requirements – Waseem Ali

In tech, hiring is frequently weighted towards those of a certain educational ‘ilk’ – typically STEM graduates from top universities – without consideration as to whether this background is actually necessary to carry out the role effectively.

But our own experience has proved that those from non-STEM degrees and lower socio-economic backgrounds can offer new perspectives and ideas, and still be trained to become just as technically capable as their STEM counterparts.

Simply by looking for raw talent, covering a range of universities and ensuring that our application process is not unnecessarily exhaustive, we have seen the number of women and ethnic minority applicants enrolling onto our new training scheme at Rockborne, double and triple the wider data industry average respectively.

Where possible, hiring managers should approach their search with an open mind, making room for other disciplines instead of restricting options to a handful of top universities,
and taking a fresh look at how to attract those who might not otherwise have considered this career path.

Consider your hiring process – Amy Foster

Employers need to focus on how their hiring processes may be unintentionally filtering out or failing to attract a wide range of candidates. Companies can often install lengthy recruitment processes because it is what they have always done, rather than considering if it is necessary, or the impact it might be having on the diversity of their workforce.

As an employer or hiring manager, it’s important to challenge ourselves and ask if we really need seven interviews for that role or a psychometric reasoning test. Instead, it’s beneficial to take a step back and consider what talent we are wanting to attract.

It’s helpful to put yourself in the shoes of someone who might be coming from a place where they are already feeling like a bit of an imposter.

If they then need to endure a marathon long process with lots of levels to pass, it can feel daunting, and maybe they don’t have the experience or a network of people able to give insights into the sector. By putting up so many barriers, these candidates naturally deselect themselves rather than thinking ‘this is something I can do.’

At Rockborne, we’ve designed our recruitment process to be as human and easy as possible. For example, we aim to recruit within 2-3 weeks and base decisions on having conversations to match candidates with our values, culture, and ethics.

We also know that neurodiverse candidates really struggle with lengthy interview and testing processes, with surprise elements and psychometrics. So, we try to be very clear about what the process will be and give people plenty of time and information to prepare for every step, in advance.

Do it for the right reasons – Waseem Ali

Currently, despite the best intentions of many, approaches to diversity and inclusion too often take the form of benchmark to hit so it can be displayed on a website, but the key to improvement lies in a shift of mindset.

Businesses need to be honest with themselves and the make-up of their workforce, rather than trying to hide behind empty statistics. A quota- based mentality isn’t useful, because to be successful in the long-term, businesses need to be making improvements for the right reasons.

Meeting a target for the sake of it, isn’t constructive for anyone – the chances are that you won’t get the outcome that you want and that you won’t be creating any long-term change either. But if you believe in the value of what you are doing, then you are much more likely to go away and put energy into it.

Foster an “open ear” policy – Amy Foster

When money is tight, the idea of pumping funds into DEI strategies can seem impossible for some businesses, but improving inclusivity and building trust doesn’t have to cost money – instead it takes time, consistency, learning, and collaboration.

In my experience the most effective initiatives are those that you don’t throw money at but instead use insights gleaned from colleagues and friends to create a more inclusive environment.

At Rockborne we have found success with fostering an “open ear” policy, where we strive to listen and appreciate the breadth of backgrounds, experiences, and views of those around us. This openness has been embedded into our everyday practices, through a conscious effort.

For example, I was speaking to a colleague who had used a plaster and commented on how visible it was against her skin tone. The next day we bought a variety of skin tone plasters for our first aid kits and have had numerous employees make positive comments about their availability since. Sometimes the easiest changes can make people feel heard and included.

Establish a constant drive to do better – Waseem Ali

At Rockborne, we have cultivated an atmosphere of honesty within our team, which means that whilst we are proud of what we have achieved, we also acknowledge that we are not yet nailing it.

This approach allows us to push for more and to challenge one another to do better. It’s not always easy or comfortable – no one likes to admit that they were wrong – but for DEI to be successful, businesses need to stay open to conversation and learning, rather than letting ego get in the way.

At Harnham we are dedicated to demonstrating equality to employees, clients and candidates. To find out more about our DEI initiatives here, or speak to the Rockborne team, who can support you in improving the DEI of your workforce.

Posted in