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Keeping diversity and inclusion at the top of the agenda

Committed companies are continually innovating to engage employees in their inclusion strategies

Lorraine Roche, HR director at Matheson: “D&I should not be something remarkable but simply embedded in the values. However, to keep it fresh we must continually get feedback about it, and diversity of thought about it.”

Lorraine Roche, HR director at Matheson: “D&I should not be something remarkable but simply embedded in the values. However, to keep it fresh we must continually get feedback about it, and diversity of thought about it.”


To keep diversity and inclusion at the top of your organisation’s agenda, you need to keep it to the fore of people’s minds. How to do that, without the message getting stale, is crucial.

It matters, particularly if you are to continue attracting top talent to your organisation, points out Lorraine Roche, HR director at Matheson, the first Irish law firm to win an Investor in Diversity & Inclusion Award.

The law firm employs more than 700 people across offices in Dublin, Cork, London and New York. “For businesses to be competitive, we have to attract top talent,” says Roche, who adds that in recent years the approach it takes to its diversity and inclusion (D&I) agenda has become much more innovative, despite the fact that, by its nature, the legal world is conservative.

Changes have included the introduction of a much more flexible “agile” working programme, with much more flexibility around working hours, including working from home. This emphasis on “soft starts and hard finishes” can help staff better manage their work-life balance.

The problem with establishing any cultural change is that the more successfully you do it, the less people notice. “D&I should not be something remarkable but simply embedded in the values. However, to keep it fresh we must continually get feedback about it, and diversity of thought about it. It is critical that businesses get a wide range of ideas and views, and agree the priorities,” says Roche.

Getting staff involved, as Matheson does, through the establishment of diversity and inclusion ambassadors and steering committees helps ensure staff “buy in”. Staff volunteer to work across areas such as generational issues, family, gender, LGBTQ+, cultural and social mobility, as well as ability levels, with mental health wrapped around all of them.

Taking an innovative approach to mentoring helps too. Having younger workers mentor older ones breaks down stale stereotypes about people being either “too old to learn or too young to understand”, says Roche, who believes the best way to ensure the D&I agenda stays fresh is to keep talking about it. “It’s all about communications,” she says.

It’s also about making it tangible, says Lynn Gallagher, associate director of manufacturing technology at pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS). That means ensuring people understand – and get to fully live – the benefits of embracing a diverse and inclusive culture.

Network for women

The company has a number of People and Business Resource Groups (PBRGs) including b-now, Bristol-Myers Squibb Network of Women, CLIMB, Cultivating Leadership in Millennials and Beyond, LGBTA, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Allies and DAWN, Differently Abled Workplace Network which focus on the Global D&I priorities of the workforce, workplace and  marketplace.

Last year, it launched Possibility Lives. “It is a strategic, multi-year initiative to drive inclusion across the enterprise based on the guiding principle that inclusion promotes innovation and business performance, and is the role of everyone,” says Gallagher.

Fittingly as a science-based business, BMS is leveraging the advancements of neuroscience research to accelerate its inclusion strategy. “Extensive and cutting-edge neuroscience research indicates that in order to effect real-world, sustained behavioural change across a large organisation, focus must be on forming new habits,” says Gallagher.

“The research tells us that we can create and adopt habits that drive business performance through inclusion. The research also tells us that introducing the right habits in the right order at the right time is the most effective way to bring sustainable change across the enterprise.”

BMS’s approach encourages employees to adopt three habits in order to create a more inclusive environment. The habits are themed ‘encourage every voice’, ‘explore new ideas’ and ‘eliminate barriers’.

“Every three months via all internal communications channels we will introduce one of three new habits and each month we will ask the organisation to adopt one of nine new tangible actions,” says Gallagher.

For example, these could include making sure that no meeting finishes up without everybody first being asked for their opinion. It could be as simple as introducing yourself to a new colleague each week, to break down barriers. For its graduate programme, it’s about providing both mentors and ‘buddies’, so that new arrivals have people to whom they can talk frankly or ask questions of.

At Deloitte, the key to ensuring that D&I stays fresh is that a member of the executive team is made responsible for tracking and reporting on progress. “If it is not an agenda item at the most senior level, it becomes a ‘nice to have’ rather than a strategic priority,” explains Valarie Daunt, the professional services firm’s partner in human capital management.

Events and initiatives

A lot of D&I practices start by celebrating diversity through events and initiatives. While this is a good starting point, to make real progress, inclusion needs to be embedded into everything the organisation does relating to people, she says.

Deloitte has broken down all the people-related processes such as recruitment, promotions, people returning from maternity leave, flexible working, on-boarding and has analysed what best practice, from an inclusion perspective, would be at each stage of the process.

“Then we can conduct gap analyses and set clear strategic priorities around closing any gaps. This is a very focused and systematic approach that over time aims to ensure that inclusion is fully embedded into all decision processes impacting people. This is measured annually across all Deloitte member firms to track progress and hold senior leaders accountable.”

It recently piloted Deloitte’s Inclusive Leadership Assessment (ILA) within one of its practice areas. The ILA assesses senior leaders against the six traits it sees an inclusive leader having. These are commitment, courage, cognisance (awareness of bias), curiosity, cultural intelligence and collaboration.

“We believe that a leader who embodies all of these traits operates more effectively, better connects, and accesses a more diverse spectrum of ideas in the workforce to reach their full potential,” says Daunt.