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Diversity Targets: Device or Divisive?

'If diversity targets are used with positive intent they can be powerful devices in driving change.'

Born's Head of Operations, Kate Higham, and Director of Convergent Consulting, Heeral Gudka explore the benefits of diversity targets and the importance of building systems within our organisations to ensure inclusivity.

Diversity, Inclusion & Representation

Kate Higham and Heeral Gudka

22 Feb 2022

Diversity Targets…

Be honest, just hearing those words made you feel a bit uncomfortable, right?

But why?

We think it’s because they can (and have) been used in a limiting way.

At worst, they are used for performative action that drives tokenism. Petiri Ira describes this danger perfectly in this quote:

"Often, workplaces and schools exercise tokenism to appear as if they are diverse when they actually aren't. Tokenism is then used for public gain, it tricks onlookers into thinking that the organisation has the objective of inclusion when the organisation only has the intention of including a person of colour to be perceived well by the public. It is a metaphor for that person of colour being the firm's most prized possession, being used repeatedly for public display instead of the firm actively working towards bringing new ideas and perspectives into space." Taken from this article (if you fancy the long read).

But we want to tell you that they can be used to elevate the hiring process and the organisation itself!

Two years ago we introduced our ‘representation target in hiring’ that tasks hiring managers to make sure at least 1 in 4 of their final interview candidates are from an underrepresented group. (Side note: we track closer to 40% on this.) And guess what? It worked - since the start of 2020 we’ve increased the diversity in our team across almost all areas from age to ethnicity, neurodivergence to socio-economic background.

This summer we began working on our submission to become a B Corp (more coming on this soon, we promise!), as part of the certification, B Corp calls for companies to set and deliver specific diversity targets to increase representation in their team, and this got us thinking about the challenges of taking our targets one step further.

We know at a macro level targets work - they are proven drivers of change (we even had the data to prove it), but at a micro level, how could we make them work for us?

How could we ensure more specific diversity targets didn’t fuel tokenism at Born?

To ensure inclusivity and diversity within our hiring practices at Born, we work with a diversity consultancy, Convergent. Convergent advises and builds partnerships with organisations that aspire to develop inclusion strategies at every level. We spoke to Heeral Gudka from Convergent to get her take on the topic:

The reality all organisations face is that inclusion is about intent and impact. If the intent is about how an organisation is seen or perceived, the impact of targets can be that people are seen as diversity hires rather than being the right person for the job.

But, if diversity targets are used with positive intent they can be powerful devices in driving change.

Intent matters. In July 2020 so many organisations came unstuck after they posted black squares on BlackOut Tuesday. Their supposed solidarity was unmasked by the impact of their post on Black employees who took to social media to tell everyone about their experiences of bias and of being silenced.

We know that everyone holds biases and these biases can work in favour for or against a group. From affinity bias (we like people like us) to confirmation bias (we seek out information that confirms what we already believe), so many workplaces are fraught with poor quality decision-making when it comes to people.

Let’s take a recruitment example. Some companies go down the route of blind CV's - this works up to a point, but those biases come back to the forefront once the person is in front of us. A more sustainable approach is for us to learn how to interrupt our biases. A simple 'Unconscious Bias' workshop will not do that. Hiring managers need tools and support so they can check their decisions.

To understand all the different ways bias permeates our thinking we need to raise awareness about different groups. Not to separate us out further, but so we can understand how society interacts with different people in different ways leading to unequal opportunities. If we can get the foundation right, then organisations can bring people together to get behind a unifying cause.

And there is no better unifying cause than inclusion and no better feeling than actually knowing you belong and are accepted.

But inclusion is not a static state of being. With every person that joins an organisation and every person that leaves, that feeling of belonging shapeshifts. This is why the goal of inclusion needs to be everyone’s responsibility; from the very top all the way through every layer of an organisation.

When the intent to create inclusion is authentic and firmly established; when your leaders begin to learn what it means to lead inclusively and create psychological safety; when difficult situations are able to be dealt with sensitively it becomes easier to introduce formal metrics to track progress.

Inclusion is less likely to work when organisations work backwards and start with targets and metrics without working towards belonging first. This ends up creating suspicion, cynicism and a strong chance of people being seen as token hires: for those people there's no quicker way to be set up to fail.

At Born, we align with Heeral’s thoughts on tackling our unconscious biases and agree that there is real groundwork to be laid, but with the help of Convergent, we are continuously building systems within our organisation to ensure authentic inclusivity in our teams and hiring processes.

We start by laying the foundations for change and creating a resource group (we call ours the Inclusion, Diversity & Representation team - IDR for short), we write a strategy and action these building blocks of inclusion by introducing policies and processes to support and drive inclusivity.

At Born Social inclusion looks like:
  • Running opt-in Inclusion Check-Ins for anyone who self-identifies as underrepresented with our Leadership team.
  • Writing a Microaggression Policy and putting it into action.
  • Running regular workshops & forums to help our team learn about different perspectives.
  • Creating a culture calendar to celebrate & acknowledge moments that are important to the WHOLE team.
  • Introducing a new company value - ‘Consciously Contribute’ - to drive inclusive behaviour and incorporate it into our decision-making.
  • A dedicated section for Inclusion, Diversity & Representation in our handbook.

So yes, B Corp asked us to provide evidence of our diversity targets. But, creating them wasn’t a tick box exercise. In fact, they’ve become a vehicle in our journey of increasing the diversity of our team and we only hope it accelerates its course.

All things considered, diversity targets shouldn’t be divisive. As an inclusion device they can drive change, raise awareness and create conversations. But we must remember it’s one piece of a much bigger puzzle to pay attention to. If you start with a target, it’s a sure-fire way to fail. Build the skills and systems for inclusivity, be conscious and meaningful with your intent and then use your diversity targets as a device to drive further change.

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Heeral Gudka is the founder and principal inclusion and leadership consultant at Convergent.

At Convergent, our sole purpose is to help organisations and individuals to find tangible, achievable and measurable ways to put Inclusion at the heart of their cultural strategy. Learn more about the impact of our work by reading our Client Stories and find out how we help the organisations we work with.