Rachel Arkle: Three signs your diversity programme could be missing the point

How are diversity and wellbeing connected? Does separating the two make a wellbeing strategy limiting? Rachel Arkle from Yoke Consultancy points ou the three signs why your diversity programme might be missing the point

This month has been all about diversity. Led by the #BeBoldForChange campaign for International Women’s Day. On 8th March we were all called to take daring action to make a more gender inclusive world. A few weeks on, are you still inspired to rally forward?

At Yoke, we were incredibly lucky to spend International Women’s Day surrounded by amazing people: from breakfast with Stella McCartney’s global HR team; lunch with The Step Up Club’s Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine; and tea with Clifford Chance’s Diversity Lead.

The following day I gave myself permission to pause, respect the positive energy from the day and consider how I can use it to reflect on the diversity challenges our society is still trying to address.

With that in mind, I would like to share three themes that keep popping up in my conversations; three observations that may highlight that your current diversity programme could be missing the point.
#1: Separating diversity & wellbeing is limiting

It is increasingly well cited, and in parts understood, that wellbeing and employee vitality fuel greater performance. Or put another way, research demonstrates that heightened stress levels limit productivity and morale.

Couple this reality with the landscape that women are more susceptible to developing stress-related disorders than men, is it possible or effective to separate out the diversity and wellbeing agenda?

As identified in our recent HR Review blog, we at Yoke have been asking ourselves the question, “is wellbeing the one thing holding women back?” What we mean by this is, are we missing out on progress by not placing wellbeing as high up the agenda as diversity?

If we dare to open the conversation with a wellbeing lens, would we find that the main failing of traditional approaches is that they don’t inspire wellbeing? Take mentoring as an example; Gallup (2016) identified that the primary value of emerging talent is wellbeing. Honouring that, how do we expect to inspire this generation to grow by offering mentoring from leaders, who in their eyes have succeeded in part, by compromising this value?
#2: Targeting behaviours doesn’t create real change

Over the past year, Yoke has led a variety of women’s events. At the start of each, we ask three simple questions.

1. Can you articulate to your neighbour what wellbeing means to you in 60 seconds?
2. Do you believe that high performance and wellbeing can co-exist?
3. If so, are you able to fulfil that potential for yourself?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we typically see less than 30% of women able to share what wellbeing means to them; with only 15% holding a genuine belief that wellbeing can co-exist with high performance and less than 5% of people are fulfilling this potential.

Despite these prevailing belief systems, nearly 100% of diversity and wellbeing initiatives target behavioural change. Companies strive forward by investing in training, education, events and mentoring that encourage people to behave in a more inclusive and ‘well’ manner. However, none of these approaches address the fact that our mind-sets don’t match up, and yet we remain surprised when such interventions gain on average 20% uptake.

Trying to drive change from limiting belief systems is ineffective and costly. If we want to refresh our impact on diversity and wellbeing, let’s start by shifting mindsets, preferably from the top down.
#3: Holding on to an old definition of performance

So, why are we doing all this?

Diversity and wellbeing is underpinned by the premise that both open-up the possibility of greater performance. But what do we mean by performance and are we holding on to a definition that no longer serves us?

Performance relates to the execution of an action or task. Our ability to fulfil a work obligation is measured against other standards, such as past examples or competitors. From here we are rated and rewarded accordingly.

It may sound straight forward, however when you add diversity and wellbeing into the mix, tensions arise. Firstly, as studies extensively show, subconscious discrimination influences ratings regardless of worker productivity. And secondly, output based performance such as “fee earning” calculations, limit performance to direct and quantifiable results.

In contrast, developments in neuroscience, business transformation and artificial intelligence shine light onto the powers of rest and recovery for creative and agile performance. Yet is this “effort” chargeable? And how do we begin to take this academic insight into the corporate world?

For the pioneers, a new definition of sustainable performance is emerging. People are experimenting with the possibility that diversity, wellbeing and performance can truly co-exist.

About Rachel Arkle

Rachel has over 15 years of Management Consultancy experience and an MSc in Organisational Wellbeing. She is the key driving force behind Yoke and so excited to be at the forefront of such an inspiring industry.

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