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Employee Experience

Building a culture of inclusion: 5 steps IT leaders can take

IT leaders are uniquely positioned to partner with their HR teams and really move the needle on DEI programs. Here’s how.

Over the last decade, we have seen how critical high function technology teams are to the success of an organization. IT leaders across the globe are discovering that diversity, equity, and inclusion are the key to unlocking innovation in their teams, but they have the potential to play a much greater – and unique – role to support the whole organization in reaching its DEI aspirations.

When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, so often we search for the one big thing that will create significant change, but real change requires many smaller adjustments, sustained over a long period of time. Technology and technologists have been playing an increasingly significant role ensuring our organizations convert our intentions into real change at scale. Here are five critical – and sustainable – steps CIOs, CTOs and other technology leaders can take to support a culture of inclusion and be advocates for their people.

1. Support employees to feel like they belong

Your team’s diversity and culture of inclusion is within your own sphere of influence. In a sea of uncertainty, employees feeling like they belong is the one anchor that can strengthen your organization. The past year has taught us that employees feeling connected to your organization and its positive impact on the world is more important – and yet, often more difficult to achieve – than ever.

To foster an environment where employees can be their authentic selves, IT leaders can start by opening up lines of communication with their teams, illustrating how their work is connected to the organization’s impact, and demonstrate how each individual contributes in their own unique way. Leaders and managers can enable employees to share their experiences and contribute their ideas via always-on feedback mechanisms, using different communications platforms such as Slack, and leadership roundtables.

Listening to what your people actually need is a great first step in being a champion for them.

At the end of 2020, we spoke to more than 11,800 participants as part of a global study. Our research shows that managers directly influence a feeling of belonging in their teams.

Employees who trust their managers, believe that they care about them as individuals, and listen to their perspectives experience a high sense of belonging.

At first glance, fostering belonging sounds superfluous. ‘We’re measuring feelings?’ you think. Actually, yes. A sense of belonging is one of the most powerful indicators for many organizational outcomes; a concrete metric that is not only closely tied to employee engagement, but also drives better business outcomes like productivity and revenue.

Read more: Fostering belonging through workforce diversity and inclusion

2. Use data to get to know your team’s diversity experiences

Teams with thousands of employees that have a myriad of backgrounds – as is the case for many IT organizations – are fortunate to be able to segment data, look at the experience gaps for certain groups of people, and make evidence-based decisions to close them.

Partner with your HR teams to access diversity data so that you better understand the representation of employees in your teams. Looking at diversity by level, team compositions, hires, promotions, exits, and any other HR operational data will provide insight into what is happening in your organization. Using this diversity data to also look at employee feedback, such as engagement surveys, pulses, or any employee experience will give you some insight as to how different people are experiencing the work culture. As the leader of many people, you do not need to wait for a unique diversity survey to provide you with this information – your everyday people data can provide insights if you simply investigate it. Reach out to your people partners to support you in better understanding and taking action to close diversity gaps in your teams.

3. Champion DEI company-wide with the right tech and tooling

As DEI continues to grow in strategic importance, IT and HR leaders need to work together to put the right people metrics – and technology systems and processes – in place that support and promote an inclusive culture.

Here are a few ways IT and HR can work together to create real change in DEI:

  • Technologists can partner with their HR teams, supporting them with technology licensing decisions and advocating for company resource allocations to invest in people analytics tools
  • Once HR and DEI leaders are equipped with the right analytics tools, IT plays an important role to further support them by setting up automations and integrations into core business systems, as well as ensuring accurate and timely data is gathered and protected so that leaders can rely on it for making data-informed people decisions
  • While DEI strategy and programs are best centralized with HR teams, true progress can only happen when everyone assumes accountability and plays their part in driving change. The partnership between HR  and IT can be the catalyst that ensures data-driven insights are utilized, establishing DEI-related KPIs that will move the needle on equitable and inclusive workplace practices.

The importance of having the right technology and access to data-driven insights to drive DEI cannot be understated. Integrating data sources to better understand employee experiences across the lifecycle can only happen when technology systems are established with this purpose and intent. Without these insights, systemic inequity can be hard to identify and get the business to prioritize.

Employees often face adversity at small iterations; biases that permeate drip by drip, not all at once. If organizations invest in people analytics tools and supportive technology infrastructure that work across HR and IT, you’ll have an internal team that will not only understand the employee experience better, but also be able to identify the persistent gaps that cause your top talent to become disengaged or worse – leave.

Learn more: How to kick-start an experience management program for IT teams

4. Champion diversity of thought in your teams

Strong research shows that leveraging diversity of thought is a foundation for creativity, innovation, and complex problem solving.

When people from different backgrounds equally contribute their ideas, you will find divergent perspectives – those that challenge the status quo and may create friction. Often we work to reduce friction in workplace settings, not embrace it. Instead, IT leaders must empower a diversity of voices to contribute by creating a space where people feel comfortable to speak up and know it’s okay to take social risks. This climate of inclusion is built on a sense of psychological safety; a feeling of being valued, of belonging, and the freedom to be your authentic self

5. Communicate rigorously and candidly on your progress

DEI programs are more prone to succeed when they are guided by data and metrics and supported by a dedicated and motivated team of IT and HR stakeholders. By involving all employees in implementing DEI action plans and providing regular and transparent updates to your employees – especially about the improvements that have been made because of their feedback – DEI programs will be kept front of mind to help inspire change. Transparency in communication will also hold yourself and your teams accountable to taking action.

Likewise, communications must always include an option for employees to give feedback to the organization, which will continue your efforts to create the united front required to break through the barriers to championing diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforces.

Improve DEI in your organization with expert guidance from the people and brands taking action.