How to set up a diversity and inclusion strategy: five top tips

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There is no shortage of evidence that diverse and inclusive teams bring tangible business benefits. But it is hard to know where to start when it comes to establishing a formal diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy: there are no quick fixes or one-size-fits-all policies, and you want to support staff and create sustainable change.

So we spoke to professionals who are rolling out formal D&I strategies in their firms, alongside HR experts, to explore what has helped them start the journey.

Scrutinise research and data. “The most important insight comes from our own data, which we actively track, measure and report on,” says Fay Palaska, group head of recruitment at global investor services group IQ-EQ [LINK]. This helps you understand your firm, what people need and where you are currently, she adds.

“You need to look at your organisation holistically and ask: ‘Are we diverse enough? And are we diverse across all our functions and locations?’ So it is about having access to data around gender, disability – or whatever other information an organisation is gathering.” 

While internal insights are important, Palaska also emphasises that there is no single source of truth. IQ-EQ has explored the extensive studies and literature around D&I and works with research and advisory firm Gartner across the people function, including on D&I topics.

“To be successful, the strategy needs to be driven by organisational data in tandem with research – and make sure that this is aligned with the overall business strategy and objectives,” adds Palaska. 

Explore what other firms do. As part of the research at Blick Rothenberg [], the team talked to other accountancy and investment firms to learn about their diversity practices. Director Sonya Rees says: “We went to chat to them about what they were doing and what works to see how we could help our business.”

Secure senior buy-in. It is important to show leaders why diversity is important to the business, says Sophie Walsh, senior talent partner at internal recruitment experts Instant Impact.

This is not just about attracting the best recruits to your firm, she adds. “[Diversity] will help to win new clients as RFPs and tenders are increasingly asking about the diversity of suppliers’ organisations,” says Walsh.

Her advice is to outline the current diversity in the organisation, using data wherever you can to reinforce your argument, and focus on what competitors are doing (see tips one and two). Furthermore, she adds, be clear that:

  1. You will not compromise on quality
  2. You are focused on attracting the best talent
  3. The assessment process will be as rigorous – if not more – than the current model
  4. The result is diversity of background, thought and opportunity.

Engage the whole organisation. “Help everyone understand and embrace the changes that need to happen to embed D&I practices into the business,” says Palaska. “... It is about what each and every one of us can do – it is not a job for HR or senior management solely, it permeates the entire organisation. So the challenge is taking the entire organisation on that journey with you.”

The team at IQ-EQ conducted structured interviews with colleagues across the organisation. “It is really important to have a good understanding of what your organisation thinks about a topic before doing something about it,” says Palaska. The team assessed the outcomes and from there set up focus groups for four or five different D&I streams, including recruitment.

“We deliberately opened up participation [of focus groups],” says Palaska. “... It is crucial that whatever messages we are sending out or new initiatives we are rolling out come from a very diverse group of people that capture the sense of the entire organisation, not just one function.”

At Blick Rothenberg, a D&I committee was set up with a wide cross-section of colleagues in terms of seniority, department and location. Ideas for D&I strategies tend to come from staff across the group, says Rees. Recent Pride celebrations at the firm saw colleagues developing each others’ ideas, for example.

“That is what is so great about it,” says Rees. “You come up with an idea, put it out there and then people build on it in their own ways and make it more special. This builds inclusion across colleagues they have never met or do not know.”

Within this mission to secure buy-in, be careful to adapt messaging. “For hiring managers, make it clear that you are not going to demand much more of their time, nor will you increase the time it takes to hire top talent. And you are not going to force them to make hiring decisions that are not in the best interests of the business,” advises Walsh.

Keep communicating. Leadership teams will want to see results – and ensure no unexpected consequences have occurred; hiring managers will need to keep D&I front of mind; and the whole organisation will want to know this was more than a fad, says Walsh.

She recommends three forms of continuous communication: reporting based on robust data; keeping stakeholders aware of the recruitment process alongside training to support them; and celebrating successes.

If you would like to know more about de-biasing your selection process, check out our guide here. We also have further features on how to attract diverse talent  and D&I strategies that others use.

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