“D&I programmes tend to be viewed from a top-down organisational perspective, while D&I is in fact a highly individual human issue.”

-Rumbi Makanga, Strategy Consultant and Mentor in Management Consulting, IT and Technology

Meet the talented Rumbi who had the opportunity to join a VC’s diversity internship program. Here discussing her views around Diversity & Inclusion — what initiatives worked well and what challenges companies can face when implementing D&I programmes.

Without getting into a definitional quagmire, at its core when we talk about diversity and inclusion we are talking about having businesses and teams that reflect society at large; we are talking about having a wide range of experiences and opinions represented and we are talking about making sure that everyone is respected and included.

What we don’t discuss enough in relation to diversity and inclusion is the context within which it takes place, namely what it means to be a woman or a minority of any type in this society, and how that affects how you show up in the world each day. And conversely, what it means to be a part of any majority or privileged group, and again how that shapes your worldview. I think the ability to be more open about this, and more open about how safe everyone feels to bring their authentic selves to work, can really move us beyond cosmetic diversity and inclusion implementation.

There are several companies that are attempting to take a proactive, transparent and accountable approach, including tech giants Google and Facebook. Monzo is often touted as a good example in the UK. They publish annual updates on diversity and inclusion — the 2018 report (published in March 2019) shows their improvements across several diversity metrics including race, age and gender. However, while progress has been made in terms of visible diversity, ethnic minorities and team members above the age of 36 reported being more likely to feel excluded. This highlights the crucial distinction between diversity and inclusion, and emphasises the importance of having a culture and practices that enable all groups to thrive once they are recruited into a company.

Companies that are doing well on inclusivity seem to have several common features:

Unfortunately, evidence from the UK, the US and across Europe indicates that D&I initiatives haven’t created the significant change they were expected to. The Global Gender Gap Report 2020, for example, offers the sobering finding that none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes. This is despite diversity and inclusion being a topic of intense focus and investment over the last few years.

Underpinning the challenge of implementing D&I programmes is that they tend to be viewed from a top-down organisational perspective, while D&I is in fact a highly individual human issue. And humans don’t tend to respond well to punitive measures that reduce their autonomy. This is why “command and control” tactics to promote diversity (diversity training, hiring tests, performance ratings and grievance procedures) have overwhelmingly failed in this regard.

Instead, companies should use learnings from social science research on how to motivate people to engage managers in D&I efforts and implement programmes that:

  • Increase engagement (mentoring, sponsoring, targeted recruitment drives)
  • Increase contact between different groups through cross-training (e.g. graduate schemes with rotations) and cross-functional teams
  • Encourage social accountability through greater transparency, diversity task forces and diversity managers

The great thing is that there are already a lot of existing pipelines from which to recruit candidates from underrepresented communities. Sifted has very conveniently curated a list of

80+ tech diversity initiatives in Europe. An additional source is NextPlay, a global employee referral platform for professionals of colour in tech that hosts the best recruitment events I have ever attended.

Beyond these companies should:

  • Invest in an inclusive company culture. This is foundational for recruiting diverse talent.
  • Track diversity metrics in the recruitment process, not just for employees.
  • Address bias in job descriptions such as gendered wording.
  • Adjust the recruitment process to reduce biases that could filter out good candidates. (Unbiased recruitment tools like Be Applied are one part of achieving a fairer and more inclusive hiring process.)

There are a lot of great resources for people wanting to explore these issues further. Here are a few:

Beyond this, I think it’s very important to engage with some of the larger societal issues, uncomfortable as it may be. For example, some people strongly object to the terms ‘People of Colour’ and ‘BAME’. What does this mean, then, when your company creates a ‘BAME network’? It is well-meaning, but how will it make those people feel? There are no simple answers and no quick fixes, unfortunately, but open dialogue, mutual respect and transparency are a good starting point.

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