The case for diversity and inclusivity in the workplace is stronger than ever following the events of 2020. In October, Legal & General – the UK’s biggest fund manager – warned FTSE 100 companies with all-white boards that it will vote against those that fail to diversify their leadership teams by 2022. Across the pond, Nasdaq revealed that under a new diversity proposal, companies listed on its US stock exchange will need “at least two diverse directors” on their board or could face being delisted. This shows a firm direction of travel for businesses across the world.

If the proposal is passed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, 3,249 Nasdaq-listed companies will be required to have to have at least one female director and at least one director who identifies as an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ+. If this isn’t the case, they will have to publicly explain why they have not met the requirement – which at present, 75 per cent do not. Listed companies will also need to disclose a breakdown of their board by gender, race and sexual orientation or risk being kicked off the exchange.

The vast majority of companies already have established policies in place, the goal now is to improve awareness and effectiveness of them. But, as HR experts search for ways to increase the effectiveness of D&I initiatives, they are discovering that the process is more complex than simply updating a policy. Technology can act as a great ally to become the catalyst for engagement and impact.

We only need to look at the acceleration of workplace technologies such as Zoom, Teams and Slack this year as the world become a workforce of remote employees. What’s more, the world of enterprise software is itself collaborating to enable businesses to grow. Salesforce’s acquisition of Slack is a sign of what’s to come as businesses look for a seamless ecosystem which helps them achieve their goals across all areas of an organisation.

Workforce analytics

Technology offers data-driven insight that can challenge longstanding – often outdated –workplace norms, influence progression and ultimately change behaviours. Continued innovation in big data and analytics is enabling businesses and HR leaders to pinpoint holes in their existing strategies and apply genuine insight into building a more inclusive and diverse culture.

HR analytics tools provide a holistic view of a workforce’s structure and categorise employees by age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and more. This provides HR teams with a simple method for identifying diversity gaps and enables them to redesign talent selection processes ensure they’re filled.

Workforce analytics can also help close the gender pay gap – particularly for larger organisations where it’s difficult to gain clarity on any patterns of bias that may exist. Analysing salary and bonus data allows HR specialists to work with management to develop fair and inclusive pay structures that ensure all employees are rewarded suitably based on performance.

Diversity and inclusion

Mentorship programmes have been proven to benefit employers and employees in multiple measurable ways. As well as improved personal and career development, enhanced onboarding and productivity, widespread accountability and teamwork, mentoring has a direct correlation with building diversity.

In the face of Covid, the face-to-face ‘buddy’ setting traditionally associated with mentoring is no longer realistic, but that’s not to say organisations can’t leverage its power virtually. Technology can be utilised to set up support networks and mentoring opportunities across organisations and encourage a truly inclusive environment.

Mentoring can encourage talent from diverse backgrounds to connect with a support network which promotes collaboration and breaks down geographical, hierarchical, societal and cultural boundaries. Mentoring nurtures deeper working relationships and values the development of all employees. By investing in mentoring platforms, committing to ringfencing mentoring time and continually measuring results, HR teams can create more inclusive and culturally competent workforces.

Recruitment tech

Strategic recruitment is fundamental to building a diverse and inclusive culture and many HR leaders are turning to technology to support talent sourcing and selection. Specialist software has been developed to integrate with job boards and applicant tracking systems (ATS) and help HR personnel remove unconscious bias during the recruitment and interview process.

For example, research has found that particular words used in job descriptions resonate more with males – such as aggressive or challenging – and this can dissuade females from applying. Sentiment analysis software picks up exclusionary language and suggests alternatives to appeal to a more diverse candidate pool. AI can also be used to screen CVs and of existing employees to learn the qualifications of a job and then identify candidates who fit the criteria. This smart tech reduces unconscious bias by ignoring demographic factors that could potentially affect hiring decisions.

The digital skills gap

According to the World Economic Forum, over half of business leaders say the skills shortage is hampering digital transformation. And, in a world where enabling digital skills proficiency is a top priority, the pressure is on HR directors to work closely with the rest of the c-suite to overcome this challenge. On the surface, the solution seems obvious – get more people involved in technology. However, there’s another challenge that runs parallel to this one – getting more diverse people involved.

The pandemic has turned millions of traditional office-based companies into virtual organisations almost overnight – leading to an even greater reliance on digital. HRs must seize this opportunity to reskill and upskill employees from all backgrounds. By widening the talent pool in the journey to achieving digital transformation, businesses can use diversity and inclusivity as a bridge to closing the skills gap.

There is a wealth of support available to businesses – organisations like the Government’s Tech Talent Charter have been launched specifically to address inequality and drive inclusion and diversity in a practical and measurable way. By making a commitment to including digital training within their D&I strategies, HRs can overcome two challenges at once and ensure that under-represented talent feels valued and at the top of their game in the process.

Looking to 2021, as businesses begin to emerge from the pandemic, HRs have a responsibility to adapt their thinking. By blending new technology with human-centric approaches, they can increase diversity and inclusion and enter the post-Covid world stronger – powered by their people.