With workplace inclusion and diversity, the gaps between perception and reality can be vast. While collecting solid data about your organization’s diversity is a great place to start the conversation and to help flag systemic gaps, there are other ways to measure positive steps forward that encourage vulnerable conversations and go beyond demographic head counts.
At ATB Financial, a financial institution operating across the Canadian province of Alberta with over 5,000 employees, the inclusion and diversity journey has been ongoing since 2015, when we launched our first intensive and award-winning organization-wide diversity and inclusion campaign. While each organization requires a unique communication plan that will function with their culture, there are a number of transferable themes that will help any communicator ignite informative, actionable and measurable conversations about an often intimidating topic.
Let the data speak for itself and focus on inclusion
While it may be tempting to qualify how your demographic data should be interpreted, especially when there are major gaps, it’s best to resist the urge to over-explain and let the numbers speak for themselves. By avoiding qualitative language and punctuation such as, “just,” “only,” and exclamation marks, you remove the bias from being built into your messaging. Trust that your audience will understand and begin to question numbers that don’t add up.
For example, in 2015, ATB produced five pamphlets that outlined five demographic areas of concern based on our annual engagement survey data: LGBTQ people, indigenous people, people with disabilities, women in leadership, and visible minorities in leadership. The employee data on most of these groups was cause for concern either because our employee population was not representative of the employable Alberta market or their representation in leadership was not representative of ATB’s total employee population for that group.
By highlighting the comparable and relevant statistics in each pamphlet, we created room for pause and employees began to ask questions like, “What’s going on there?” and “Why are our numbers so low in these areas?” By sticking to the facts, we created room for meaningful dialogue without beginning the conversation with an inherently negative perspective.
We also placed an intentional focus on inclusion throughout our messaging. While touting diversity can create a negative backlash, as some employees translate this into being about quotas or scarcity of opportunities for the homogeneous middle, inclusion focuses on creating belonging—something all people crave and can easily get behind. Highlighting activities, strategies, initiatives and actions that promote inclusion for each group creates a space for positive dialogue that can help move employees from awareness to action.
Center your actions around conversation and feedback
Throughout our inclusion and diversity journey, we have placed a premium on feedback, team dialogue and sharing personal lived experiences to spur growth and build empathy. In 2015, we set an expectation that all leaders use the pamphlets and an extensive FAQ resource to have an open conversation with their teams about inclusion and diversity at ATB. After having a team discussion, leaders were expected to leave the pamphlets lying around non-customer facing areas so the information could be absorbed over time and create spontaneous dialogue during coffee breaks.
Beyond having group conversations, we also encouraged employees to share their individual experiences of inclusion and diversity at ATB. Several weeks after the pamphlets had been shared and absorbed across the organization, each employee received a postcard asking them to share their personal inclusion and diversity story in their own words. These postcards included an internal return address where they could be sent back to our inclusion and diversity team. The postcards allowed employees to return the postcards anonymously, ensuring there were no barriers to being open and honest. Alternatively, employees could choose to include their name and request to be contacted by our the inclusion and diversity team to discuss their feedback further.
More than 10 percent of employees took the time to return their postcards, sharing opinions and personal stories that encompassed a range of emotions, including pride, anger, sadness, gratitude, embarrassment and relief. In addition to the five demographic areas of concern ATB had already identified, two new themes we hadn’t expected arose from the feedback: ageism and concerns about religious discrimination. Creating a psychologically safe space for sharing allowed us to identify new inclusion and diversity topics to explore and proactively address.
Our post-campaign survey results revealed that 92 percent of survey respondents felt they had a stronger understanding of diversity and inclusion. Seventy-two percent of survey respondents felt the materials helped facilitate meaningful conversations about diversity and inclusion with their leaders and peers. In total we had a survey response rate of 27.5 percent.
Look beyond numerical data for indicators of success
While survey and demographic data create important baselines for progress, there are other ways to observe if progress is occurring within your organization. For instance, three new employee resource groups (ERGs) have since been created due to the focus our campaign placed on activating a more inclusive workspace. Additionally, four years later, the impact of the campaign pamphlets can still be observed as they continue to be proudly displayed on employee desks around our various office spaces.
Cultural shifts are usually incremental, but with the luxury of being able to look back over four years, it’s clear that the 2015 inclusion and diversity campaign laid the foundation for ongoing progress. In addition to focusing on five demographic areas, the campaign also included a sixth pamphlet that focused specifically on “allyship.” This pamphlet outlined that 100 percent of employees were expected to be allies to one another as well as what allyship means.
In May of 2018, ATB adopted an eleventh core value about allyship: Courageously be yourself and a true ally for each other. Adding a new core value was not something that was taken lightly and is a strong indicator of a shift in understanding and mindset. We have also intentionally continued the diversity and inclusion dialogue by strategically supporting and elevating our employee resource groups as respected advocates for inclusion. This empowerment has enabled an environment of vulnerable sharing through an internal podcast where employees are interviewed about their diverse lived experiences, discussing their views on themes such as belonging and allyship.
Other indicators of being a more intentionally inclusive organization include shifts such as having a 50/50 male-to-female board and senior executive leadership team. Since 2017, there have been five new positions created to ensure diversity and inclusion efforts are being reflected to our customers, including a Director and Manager of Indigenous Relations, a Director of Women’s Entrepreneurship and a Director and Specialist of External Equity & Inclusion.
Open dialogue has the power to create trust, understanding and empathy, and over time will become the the foundation for a progressively inclusive culture. Use the data you have to create meaningful conversation and checkpoints, but don’t forget to look beyond the numbers to appreciate the full scope of cultural advancement.