diversityAs the diversity debate continues to rage across the global business landscape, it strikes me that perhaps in some cases, HR professionals are trying to find a cure before they’ve truly identified the problem. Creating an environment which is conducive to diversity is important and should without a doubt be a priority on the HR agenda, but the first step is to identify what the real barriers are and plan around these.

Despite there being a large number of perceived challenges – such as lack of access to data, centralised budget and hard evidence or examples of the business benefits – when you explore this further there are perhaps less barriers to overcome than previously thought.

From various conversations and think tanks with international HR Directors, I would suggest there are three key challenges to address in order to drive diversity and inclusion in businesses:

Understanding the current workforce

It sounds simple, but as with many other talent management processes, HR professionals first need to understand what the current workforce really looks like before moving to attract more diverse skills. If, for example, one of the key aims of diversity is customer empathy, without first outlining internal structures it is impossible to truly identify where the talent gaps are.

Building communities versus pipelining

As is becoming increasingly clear, talent pipelining can be highly useful when it comes to finding talent which matches the current workforce. This approach, however, is not necessarily beneficial for creating diversity and bringing in talent which challenges the current structure. Instead there is a need to move towards building communities of talent beyond your current reach in order to tap into a diverse range of groups.

Too often harmony is viewed as the key outcome of talent attraction, but diversity is likely to have the opposite effect. It’s not going to be comfortable, it will be a big change, but the benefits are enormous and these alone should be the desired outcome.

Experiencing exclusivity

Perhaps the largest challenge is simply making sure line managers and business decision makers really ‘get-it’ through educating them on what it means for the business. At the end of the day, to get everyone on board the message needs to be fed down from the top and built in as a business incentive.

However, doing this can be very challenging when HR teams are using the same information, stats and approach time and again. The solution, though, could be fairly simple: in order to make business leaders understand the importance of diversity and inclusion, they need to emotionally experience the effect of exclusivity.

To really highlight this point, I’d like to share a fantastic example I heard from a senior female HR professional who took two male colleagues along to a conference aimed at helping women get ahead in their career. Confronted with a room full of the opposite gender, these colleagues expressed their nervousness around being singled out and isolated. Only following this experience could these business decision makers really get to grips with how a lack of diversity and inclusion can affect individuals, the workforce and ultimately, commercial performance.

Encouraging diversity in organisations isn’t going to be an easy task, but there can be little doubt that it needs to be done. However, as HR professionals look to find a solution, consider the problem first – you may find it’s not as tricky as you think!