Learning Plays a Pivotal Role in Diversity and Inclusion

By Josh Bersin

This year, our most comprehensive new research on talent management, “High-Impact Talent Management 2015,” found the most differentiating, predictive practices that directly correlate with high performing global companies are those which focus on diversity, inclusion and fairness.
While programs like leadership development, onboarding, sales training and succession management are valuable, it is how they drive inclusion and a feeling of openness that create the greatest business results of all.
We can all understand why this might be true. We live and work in highly diverse environments. The workplace contains different ages, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, backgrounds and physical abilities, and when any one of us feels left out, not included or discriminated against, we simply can’t contribute our best. Much of our new research shows that traditional hierarchical leadership models are being replaced with networks of teams — so if people on the team don’t feel included and respected, the team itself will underperform.
Our research revealed some astounding things. Among the 450 global companies we studied, the ones with a highly inclusive environment generated significantly higher cash flow, profitability and employee retention over a three-year period.
The reason I’m bringing this up here is the biggest thing we found was not that these companies had a great diversity and inclusion program, but that they had managed to build what we call a truly inclusive talent system. These top companies — this represents only 10 percent of our sample — had gone well beyond building a diversity program and creating diversity measures and benchmarks. They had embedded inclusive thinking and diversity conversations into every part of their talent system.
As a learning leader, you hold the keys to the kingdom. Most of the differentiating practices are things that fall directly into L&D’s hands. Consider:
• How well do you include diversity and inclusive thinking in your onboarding and overall employment brand?
• How inclusive is your leadership assessment and training for new leaders?
• Is unconscious bias a topic you teach managers and team leaders, and do you use it in recruitment practices?
• How well do you train and coach senior leaders as role models for inclusive thinking and diversity practices?
• Does your project management, team leadership and functional training include topics about fairness, collaboration and diversity?
• Do you, as a learning leader, truly understand all the ways diversity can and should be embedded in your learning programs, and are your programs diverse and inclusive in their design?
We recently had TD Bank, one of the leading financial institutions in Canada, present on its diversity and inclusion journey. In 2004, the CEO studied this issue and found a workplace that did not let employees bring their true selves to work every day. Since then, the company has embarked on a variety of employee experience programs and put in place a diversity leadership council with multiyear metrics to improve the bank’s inclusive culture.
As we discussed the bank’s 10-year journey, the team told us about diversity and inclusion topics included in the onboarding program, the first-line manager program and, of course, the senior leadership program. TD now has more than 300 executives signed up to promote inclusive thinking throughout the bank, and they infuse diverse and inclusive thinking into every communication and training program they roll out.
Today this is a critically important topic. Diversity strategies not only improve representation and fairness as an employer but also open up the organization to respect the strengths, ideas and passions of every employee at every level. What company wouldn’t want to unlock that incredible well of energy among its workforce?
Our role in L&D is to help lead this charge. Take some time to think and learn about diversity, inclusion, fairness and unconscious bias in your own programs — you’ll discover that your role as a learning leader is more important than ever.
AUTHOR:  Josh Bersin is the principal and founder of Bersin & Associates, with more than 25 years of experience in corporate solutions, training and e-learning.

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