Diversity & Inclusion: constructive disruption & more human HR

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives are failing to make significant impact on areas like BAME and female representation. We spoke to consultant, Huma Qazi, about what it takes to make D&I truly count.

Huma Qazi profile pic
For people solutions and organisational culture consultant, Huma Qazi, a former head of global mobility in the oil and gas sector, living and working around the world has been an integral part of her life.Growing up in Abu Dhabi and originally from Pakistan, Huma has lived in the UK for the past 15 years after an international career. “Diversity and diverse workplaces are part and parcel of my lived experience,” she says, “and what I believe we need to live in an ever-changing global economy.”Relocate Global spoke to Huma Qazi as she prepared to take to the stage at the CIPD annual conference and exhibition on November 8-9 in Manchester. Here she will participate in the discussion “Do diverse workplaces always mean more effective teams?It is a highly relevant question. Our conversation took place as the latest official figures continue to show significant gender pay gaps, as well as persistently low representation of Black, Asian, and minority ethic (BAME) people in senior roles and now falling female representation at leadership level in banking after a few years of gains.All this at a time when awareness of the compelling business case for workforces that better reflect the general population is growing.

Moving beyond strategies and initiatives

“When you think of diversity, you immediately think we need more women or we need more ethnicity, but it’s far broader than that” says Huma Qazi, as she explains her view of the D&I agenda and belief that initiatives on their own aren’t enough.“I run sessions and workshops around career acceleration and development for women. A lot of these programmes are focused around upskilling and helping women.“Some call this upskilling and development ‘fixing the women’. But it’s not just about ‘fixing the women’. We are fixing the organisation as well: the actual working environment and the way that the organisation supports inclusion. Not just by having the right policies and strategies, but how daily conversations and behaviours need also be inclusive.“The organisation has to go through a culture change as well to align itself to an inclusion agenda.”

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Leadership and communication

Communication and leadership are key enablers in learning and development. Leaders who are communicating the right narrative are critical to embedding D&I effectively in the business.“That is, being able to articulate the return on the investment and why inclusion matters to you as an individual” says Huma Qazi. “That business case narrative, almost like having an elevator pitch, is a personal statement and must hold meaning for each leader in order to drive change in D&I.”Inclusive organisations are therefore those where leaders and managers understand what those relationships mean, who can handle differing views and perceptions and are able to communicate effectively around that.“It’s not easy to manage diverse teams,” says Huma. “Often, they are not just teams sitting in front of you in an open office plan. Managing diverse teams can mean managing across national borders or virtual teams. As a leader, you have to be equipped and know how to bring out the best in people and leverage the diversity of thought in a team. That is essential and D&I 101. “Furthermore, multigenerational and multicultural workforces, ie people from different backgrounds and cultures, process information differently. Communication, therefore, has to be diverse and varied, using the appropriate terminologies and references.“You can bring on the best team and the best people, but if line managers are not equipped to properly manage that diversity of thought, you risk differing views clashing with your vision of an inclusive workplace.“Most companies can create a fantastic D&I strategy. But, if they don’t sort out how they communicate in an inclusive manner that works in their organisation, whether that’s national or international, then they are not going to be effective to embed what they want to change.” 

D&I in the global context

The organisation culture aspect has an added dimension for managers responsible for international teams, HR and global mobility leaders supporting overarching D&I strategies.Fresh from leading a workshop at the Investing in Ethnicity and Race conference on the global challenge and translating multi-culturalism, Huma Qazi underlines the importance for these managers of getting the messaging right.“If you are talking about the ethnicity agenda, the problem with having a global diversity strategy, possibly developed in the UK or the US, is that it won’t necessarily translate to other countries and cultures. You have to moderate and adapt to different cultures.“If you’re going to embed the same message, you have to make sure you translate it to what is relevant to the particular ethnicity challenge or specific agenda nationally or regionally, and aligned with local legislation.“An overarching global inclusion strategy will outline an organisation’s vision and what the organisation is striving for. But to be truly effective, you have to consider geographical regions. As global heads, leaders and managers, we still have to be locally and regionally aware of and make sure whatever we say lands properly in whatever cultures we are delivering to.”

Three steps to strategy success

Getting the message across clearly in a way that connects with each individual on their terms, that links D&I directly to the business case and consciously recognises bias means the strategy has a much greater chance of success.“The first step is the business imperative,” says Huma Qazi. “Listening to the client and understanding what the organisation is seeking to drive through its D&I strategic plans and what its strategic business objectives are. It’s important not to dive into solution mode as soon as the problem is stated.“All too often we jump straight into solving problems with an HR or D&I standalone initiative, but such initiatives may not be strategically aligned nor do they tie back to what the business is trying to achieve. If it’s a business that’s driving for innovation, the diversity strategy should reflect that."The second step is to have clarity on desired results. It is vital to a) have that strategic alignment and b) that desired results are broken down into KPIs that are distinct, tangible, measurable and easily understood, which requires clarity in communication.Senior leaders, line managers and hiring managers are then clear and understand what being asked to do. How everything is tying into the diversity agenda and helping to make their business more effective. Ultimately, it is being able to articulate the return on investment. "You have to break it down so that it is tangible and actionable at an individual level,” says Ms Qazi.The third step is to recognise bias. Huma Qazi believes this is fundamental “whether we are talking about gender, ethnicity, LGBT+, disability and so on.”“We must recognise that bias – conscious and unconscious – exists, and we have to identify the triggers and the underlying reasons for bias in order to change behaviour in the workplace,” she says. “If you can’t recognise biases, and change behaviours, then we are not going to shift the inclusion dial nor will we be geared for the future world of work.”

Making work more human and constructive disruption

“We are faced with constant disruption," Ms Qazi continues. "From an HR perspective, disruption is important because you are breaking the mould and moving away from established models. You need to encourage that diversity of thought, but be strategic and solutions-focused and not disrupt for the sake of disrupting. In my view, we need constructive disruptors in our modern way of working to where people come together, challenge one another, collaborate on ideas and find solutions.  “As people start adapting the way they engage and have conversations, I believe we can create leaders and managers who are better equipped for disruption and the challenges of the future.“People are busy, juggling multiple responsibilities, especially middle managers,” concludes Huma Qazi. “We need to simplify and have clarity to engage the minds and hearts towards more inclusive organisations. This is the human focus. We must bring that human side back to the workplace to enable and drive change within our organisations."
Relocate Magazine Winter 2017 front cover
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