Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – no longer just another HR buzz phrase?

2020 has certainly been one for the history books, filled with unprecedented change. One thing we have seen globally is that there are still deep divisions that exist in society, highlighting a need for massive change, and many individuals and organisations in Australia are finally taking this on board. For many, if they didn’t embrace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) before, they certainly do now.

DEI is no longer seen to be just another HR buzz phrase, but a fundamental business imperative that plays a role in both organisational and societal growth. From the COVID pandemic importunately impacting the most marginalised groups and shining a light on systemic inequities, to the ongoing racial tensions sparked by the George Floyd murder in America, and the #MeToo Movement which is still very much alive; this year has been somewhat of a ‘reckoning’.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from the days where DEI was merely seen as a compliance and legal requirement. In the past, DEI was typically a compliance driven exercise focused on avoiding discrimination claims and reputational damage. Compliance remains important, but encouragingly, what we are seeing now, is DEI increasingly embedded in the running of organisations. Today, DEI is increasingly championed by the C-Suite and positioned as a strategic enabler that goes beyond compliance and ‘box-ticking’. A recent study by PWC showed that 87% of global CEOs are now focused on DEI strategies – that’s a significant increase from 2015 when it was only 67%.

For Mimecast, we have certainly ramped up our efforts in DEI. We have a  DEI Council in place, sponsored by our Executive Committee, whom are accountable for ensuring our DEI goals are grounded in our Business strategy and sustainable enough to facilitate meaningful change; and we regularly host company-wide events which include important dialogues on diversity and equity topics ensuring we are listening to our employees and building a culture of inclusion.

Leaders across organisations in Australia are finally buying into the notion that having a diverse and inclusive workforce doesn’t only make business sense, but moral sense too. It’s wonderful to see that DEI-related job vacancies have risen by 55% globally since June, which coincides with the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement (Glassdoor, 2020).This was clearly a wakeup call for many and has led to organisations investing in DEI’s importance.

This is refreshing for any DEI practitioner, as it no longer feels like we are banging on peoples\ doors asking them to listen – for the most part anyway. Instead we’re able to invest our time having thoughtful conversations about how we can drive strategic change. We’re finally seeing this change happening and it’s long overdue.

But we still have a long way to go. It can sometimes feel like for every 5 steps we take forward, we take 10 steps back. That’s because DEI work is really about facilitating behaviour change, mitigating unconscious (and conscious) biases and ultimately rooting out systemic inequities. So it takes time.  The fact that we still have to struggle in the year 2020 and that there are still some people and organisations living in the dark ages, is a major cause for concern. But considering where we’ve come from, we’ll take the small victories.

So, whats next for DEI? Like 2020 it’s hard to predict. But if I had a crystal ball – and I wish I did – I see a few big changes in the years to come:

  1. DEI will be viewed as any other strategic business priority, driven by meaningful metrics and data to drive accountability and ensure results. It will also become standard practice for organisations to publish their internal DEI data externally; with customers, clients and shareholders holding companies to account
  2. There will be an increasing focus on the ‘inclusion’ piece of the DEI equation. Organisations will prioritise building psychologically safe environments where employees can bring their authentic selves to work – and be celebrated for it
  3. DEI work will extend its usual reach beyond people and culture, and be more integrated into product, customer, marketing and sales strategies – with inclusive design being a standard practice rather than an afterthought
  4. Last but not least, employees will be more and more empowered to speak up if they see wrongdoing. We are already seeing millennials and Gen Z’s taking a necessary stand against discrimination in and out of the workplace. I think this will continue and employers will need to pay attention, if they aren’t already

Ultimately, it’s safe to say DEI has come leaps and bounds over the past 10 years, and this makes coming to work every morning an absolute joy.

By Jennifer Odogwu, Global Diversity & Inclusion Manager, Mimecast