Organisations are still prioritising equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) but nurturing a diverse workforce isn’t getting any easier as HR professionals continue to battle a number of challenges. Perhaps it’s time for organisations to consider a new strategy if they’re to achieve real and lasting change – from less divisive efforts to a more honest approach that has employee listening at its heart.

WorkBuzz’s latest research with over 400 HR professionals reveals that EDIB is a growing priority, with 21 per cent stating that it’s a big concern compared to just 17 per cent the previous year. In fact, nearly half report that their organisation had become more diverse over the past year, with a similar number saying the make-up of their workforce had remained largely the same. Just 5 per cent said their organisation was less diverse than it was a year prior.

However, despite a growing focus on diversity, progress remains slow. HR professionals admit to being thwarted by a number of challenges, including struggling to attract diverse talent to the organisation and having people in senior leadership positions who are not representative of a diverse workforce. Issues with creating a working environment where all voices feel heard, a lack of the right resources and having a leadership team not committed to EDIB initiatives, are also ongoing diversity barriers.

As organisations consider new ways to achieve their EDIB goals, perhaps it’s time to take a fresh approach. With Gartner reporting that 42 per cent of employees say their peers regard EDIB efforts by their organisations as divisive, 2024 needs to be a time to take a more honest, employee-led approach to improving diversity. After all, a top-down approach in which EDIB initiatives are pushed out from the leadership team, rarely tackle the right issues but tend to be more tick-box exercises, papering over cracks in the organisation’s culture.

So what does an employee-led approach look like? To start with, it must focus on employee listening, putting the employee voice at the very centre of the organisation’s understanding about EDIB. In practice, this means regularly asking employees the right questions, listening to the answers and then putting together plans that bring about positive change. One-to-one meetings and team gatherings in which employees’ opinions are sought are valuable feedback channels but these must be used alongside regular surveys, which allow employees to give their thoughts and ideas anonymously.

These surveys – ideally created and managed using an employee engagement platform – can gather a range of invaluable insights, from whether employees feel a sense of belonging in their teams through to whether they believe that everyone is given the same opportunities to progress.  The surveys can even drill into certain areas in more detail to uncover the root causes of employee dissatisfaction, for instance if employees admit to feeling like outsiders at work, why is this? By asking the right questions, the organisation may uncover prejudicial behaviours by certain managers or flexible working policies that aren’t equitable for all. The insights can then be used to create targeted action plans to improve the employees’ everyday lived experiences. This “You Said, We Did” approach should replace the blanket, top-down initiatives that tend to play lip-service to the company’s diversity and inclusivity agenda.

By encouraging all employees to give their thoughts and opinions on what is and isn’t working at the company, why this might be, and what needs to change, the employee voice is right at the centre of understanding, influencing the business’s direction including its EDIB strategy. Plus, the very act of asking each employee what they think, listening to their answers and importantly, acting on their feedback, is making it clear that everyone matters and their opinions are valued. This inclusive approach to employee listening is the bedrock of any EDIB initiative, informing policies, behaviours and ultimately everyday organisational culture.

When employee feedback is welcomed on a regular basis, with the engagement surveys taking place a few times’ a year, it then becomes possible to benchmark progress along the organisation’s EDIB journey. The insights and progress should be communicated to all employees to ensure transparency with where the company is at, where it wants to get to, and even how it compares to other organisations. As part of this process, it’s important that the leaders are totally open with how things are going rather than just spotlighting what’s going well. Employees will appreciate the honesty and are far more likely to trust their leaders to do the right thing and have their best interests at heart.

It’s time for leaders to take a more honest and authentic approach to EDIB, taking their direction from within rather than rolling-out top-down initiatives that may make the company ‘look good’ but have minimal impact. By listening to the lived experiences of employees and then using the insights to drive change, this approach is far more likely to lead to equitable practices and employees who enjoy a genuine sense of belonging.

Mel Foster
Melisaan Foster
Chief Experience Officer at WorkBuzz | + posts

Melisaan Foster is Chief Experience Officer at employee engagement specialist, WorkBuzz, where she helps businesses build great company cultures by gaining feedback from their people. Melisaan was awarded a Mark of Excellence - Outstanding Young Communicator by the CIPR in 2018, named an Inspiring Leader in 2020, and Customer Success Rising Star EMEA in 2022.