7 Steps to Kicking Off a Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Initiative

Mertcan Uzun

Last month, the DINT team went back to basics during our Inclusive Recruitment panel, where we asked the big question of ‘How do I start?’. Our February event built off this initial question, and we explored the necessary steps to beginning a Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Initiative with our speaker Mertcan Uzun.

This talk was a part of a monthly event series run by DINT, a free online community created to enable connections and increase conversations about diversity and inclusion in tech. If you’re interested in joining the DINT community, click here.

Mertcan Uzun currently works in the People team at Blinkist, and before joining the startup world, Mertcan was in academia researching labour market discrimination. Now, Mertcan is trying to make today’s workplace liveable for everyone, regardless of their inherent or acquired backgrounds.

Mertcan emphasised a concept that we’ve addressed in previous DINT speeches and panels: he says, ‘It’s usually at the beginning of kicking off an IDB initiative that I’ve observed a lot of companies, HR teams, and C-level executives struggling’. It is due to this common struggle that Mertcan decided to create a simple, seven-step process to begin an IDB initiative in your workplace.

Step One: Get Buy-in from Leadership

According to Mertcan, the very first step when kicking off a people-focused project is to ensure that leadership supports the idea. This is key to the success of the culture because they are the ones who, directly or indirectly, shape your culture. If they don’t have answers to the big IDB questions, your employees will likely have an immediate negative perception of your IDB initiatives, and this will create a big blocker for you to do your job successfully. Mertcan suggests that not only do leaders have to be sure that they want to support the projects, but they also have to be prepared to sponsor them. ‘It may be the case that they’re not that informed, which is fine, but they have to be prepared to educate themselves and to understand the crucial impact this would have on their organization.

The role of education will usually fall to you. By explaining the importance of the initiative through data and case studies, you can make the necessity of the initiative clear. However, Mertcan warns against making this a ‘business case’. He explains that IDB initiatives are human and social issues, and they should not be about the bottom line. Be sure to focus on the human aspects of the initiative; and remember, many people in leadership roles are still white, male, cis-gender people with some extent of privilege. It is your role to introduce the problem, but their responsibility to accept education, recognise their privilege, and learn how to share it.

Step Two: Hire an External Consultant

IDB initiatives are often perceived as the responsibility of HR teams, and in truth, HR teams are often the ones to take on these projects. ‘However,’ Mercan warns, ‘don’t expect HR teams to automatically know how to run this kind of project, especially given that they’re often tangled up in day-to-day operations. Hiring an external consultant will give this project the perspective it needs.’ External consultants will likely have been educated in the field, and thus they will be able to bring their knowledge and experience from previous projects. Because they bring this external knowledge, they will have the expertise and ability to tell you what is and isn’t appropriate when beginning an IDB initiative.

Step Three: Take the Temperature of your Organization

The third step is connecting with your employees. It is necessary to make time to have mutual conversations with the people in your organisation and gauge how they feel about the topic and the current project. The employees’ everyday experience will help guide you, and hopefully they will share what they wish to change or see in the organisation. These open lines of communication will allow you to understand their essential opinions. Don’t forget that the primary purpose of the project is to lift this burden from underrepresented groups and delegate it to more privileged ones. One way to do this is by appointing one experienced point of contact internally and funnel these kinds of conversations through them. This point of contact can help you collect feedback, take notes, and create an initial heat map of issues to see whether there are quick wins and actions to take in your organization.

Step Four: Collect Data and Explain the ‘Why’ Be serious about it.

While talking to people is a necessary and helpful part of the process, you must find a systematic way to make it easy to convince stakeholders of the importance of the project. It will be easy for stakeholders to say ‘no’ if you are purely stating your opinion; instead, show them data that is not easy to challenge. Ask your consultants and those from diverse backgrounds to help you create a survey to send to employees, and ensure that all opinions on the survey’s creation are considered.

First of all, create a solid comms strategy for your survey and the project as a whole. Make sure that people understand why you’re launching the survey and what you plan to do with the data. People are more likely to express their true opinions if they know the details and the realities of the project. If you want to make this a stronger case, ask your leadership team to share their perspective on why this project is essential and why they value the survey’s data. Support from leaders can help employees feel more engaged.

You’ll need to cover a range of topics in the survey. Mertcan recommends the following:

  • A section for demographics
  • A section for questions measuring inclusion, diversity, and belonging
  • A section for items measuring the engagement of your employees with the company and business.

This set-up provides a significant data set within which further analyses can be run throughout the project. Here are some things to be sure to remember…

  • Don’t forget to keep the survey anonymous and confidential! People often give their most honest opinions if they know their answers are respected and will not impact their safety. So, make this survey safe and sound If you fail at this stage, it will be extremely tough to make use of any data you collect.
  • Don’t forget that feelings are data points too. To be able to gather the full picture, you have to run qualitative research as well. This part needs to be done by your external consultants if you’d like your employees to give honest answers in an unpressurised way. In this case, Mertcan suggests picking around 15 people from diverse backgrounds, seniority levels, and fields, then proceeding to conduct anonymous and confidential qualitative interviews with your consultant. Your consultant should later on give you a detailed, yet very sensitive, report on the discussions.

Step Five: Decide on Your First KPI’s — Small Wins are Big!

Once you gather your data, take a breath — breathe in the data and enjoy the moment. You’ve already accomplished something that many companies are struggling to achieve. Congratulations on the very first realistic snapshot of your company! Now it’s time to see who is in the frame.

The next step is to understand and embrace the data. Mercan mentioned that he often sees companies focusing on the descriptives, which are, in many cases, essential and the first step. Checking the demographics and average scores are very crucial. However, if you want to conduct Inclusion, Diversity, and Belonging research, you have to level up and look into other aspects of the survey, such as correlations or intersectionality. Let’s say you end up with 50% male and 50% female employees. What does this mean? You’ll get more understanding if you investigate who holds power. Does every level from the female population have the same sense of belonging? What are the differences between different fields, backgrounds, and groups? This is not about what you have in your organization, but instead about how you have it.

Once you have completed your data analysis, set up between two and three initial focus areas. While this seems low, Mertcan advises that you shouldn’t have more than this, and you should focus on each of these separately and carefully. Create a roadmap for how you might solve the problem or achieve a specific goal. This will allow you to tackle these problems in-depth and appropriately. Mertcan gives some interesting advice: ‘At this stage, you have to give up on being kind to everyone. Being kind doesn’t necessarily give underrepresented people a seat at the table — affirmative actions do. Focus on these affirmative actions.’

Step Six: Educate, Educate, Educate

It’s easy to assume people’s knowledge on these topics. When we assume others’ knowledge, we are forgetting that we’ve all been born into a biased society, and it’s necessary to break down the barriers and make this bias known. Spend time educating your employees on why this topic is necessary, and begin your affirmative training on specific issues that help you increase the level of belonging. As Vernā Myers said, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” “Belonging,” added Vessy Tasheva in 2019, “is being asked to vote on the party theme”.

Mertcan also notes that it’s important to keep the project open and not police your colleagues. The last thing you want is for your employees not to embrace this project, as this would alienate those with privilege — those whose presence is most needed. Hearing a story of oppression from one close friend, a colleague, or a team member is often more effective than reading an article about similar experiences. To be able to educate appropriately, create a safe space where people can share their personal stories.

Step Seven: Let Go

At the start of the project, you will have a project group — usually the HR team — who, while dedicated, is likely not very diverse. In order for the project to succeed, you must be ready to let go and give your project over to a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and experiences. Facilitate the creation of an advisory board, and make sure there’s a rotation system in place to maintain the diversity of this board. This will ensure that it is always a collaborative project where all given equal time and no one person leads the way. By creating a platform where this project can continue even after your departure, you have set the project up for success.

The DINT team has had a wonderful time learning from our speakers and growing over the past months, and we can’t wait to grow and reach more people. If you haven’t joined the DINT community yet, click this link or share it with your friends, colleagues, HR teams, or managers — all are welcome. If you’d like to read an in-depth version of Mertcan’s seven-step process, follow this link. Next month, we’ll be joined by SAY Yang, who will share their insight on creating a SAFE space to foster innovation. Reserve your virtual seat here — tickets are going fast!DINT – Diversity & Inclusion in Tech

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