Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are key to determining how a brand is seen by its people, its prospective employees, its industry, and the public. At a very top level, diversity and inclusion are big terms in the HR world that are seeing a lot of movement in the workplace and the boardroom, yet while D&I is mission-critical to achieve the understanding of what inclusion and diversity are and look like in practice is a challenge for a lot of businesses.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, the case is strong across all sectors. But as we’ve explored previously, in retail, where customer experience is critical, it is especially important to get it right. That’s because a diversity of perspectives and experiences can help you better understand and serve your customers and the biggest contributor to customer experience, is your employees. And your employees are behind every customer interaction.
D&I practices and strategies are often seen as separate initiatives to performance management. But our question is, how do you drive people performance if you aren’t ensuring that everyone is given a fair chance to succeed? If performance management tools were able to consider each person's unique skills, drivers, abilities, and experience, and make sure that every employee is given an equal opportunity to contribute, then a natural next step would be for D&I initiatives to follow. D&I is not simply something to be ticked off the to-do list but incorporated at every point of a business’s people experience.
The starting point is very much ensuring inclusive conversations happen. The retail sector is ever-changing, large, and has always attracted a workforce with backgrounds from all walks of life. We are strong believers that inclusion and diversity cannot be achieved by any one retail business alone. It takes the commitment of the industry to create an environment in which everyone can thrive.
At OpenBlend, we’re lucky enough to work with several big retail brands and gain insight into the challenges that are being faced right here and now in relation to both performance management and D&I across the industry. It is our mission to make sure that inclusion and diversity in embraced in performance management, and we see ourselves as having a role to play in making this happen.
On Tuesday 17th May 2022 we hosted a private dining experience and retail roundtable where we explored this subject in more detail with spokespeople from some of the UK’s most dynamic fashion and apparel brands. Our guest speaker was none other than Geoffrey O. Williams, Global Head Diversity & Inclusion Vice President at Burberry, who previously held the role of Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Dr. Martens.
The event was thought-provoking, engaging and shed a lot of light on the common themes that the retail sector is up against right now when it comes to embracing D&I. We started with an introduction from OpenBlend’s CEO & Founder Anna Rasmussen before welcoming Geoffrey to take the lead on an insightful discussion, where he delved into his experiences and his opinion upon the role managers play in addressing and supporting ED&I at a micro and individualised level across the fashion and apparel industry.
We want to impart the events’ takeaways, and discussion points to shed some light on the key themes across the fashion and apparel industry in relation to diversity and inclusion.
Key theme 1: Diversity and Inclusion on company culture
D&I has a massive impact on company culture and its lack of existence in many businesses comes down to it being a cultural problem. Does your company culture actively support diversity and inclusion? It's not enough to simply have a diversity program or policy in place or reference ED&I in your company's mission statements or corporate values. For diversity and inclusion to truly thrive in your workplace, you need to have a culture that is supportive and welcoming of all employees and D&I needs to be part of the very fabric of your people experiences. Ask yourself this, if you were to hire someone, would the culture absorb them and allow them the space to be inclusive?
D&I is most certainly not a box-ticking exercise and think of the of the real meaning behind a sentence that starts ‘we’ve hired this person because.’ Because what, it fits your corporate agenda? You need to hire because of what someone brings, not who they are.
To navigate this world of complexity, your business needs to give D&I a unique organisational definition, that is supported by an internal purpose and goals that you work towards. It needs alignment from the top down and buy-in from everyone in the organisation and you need to make the D&I business case personal to your organisation.
Failure to not achieve D&I has big ramifications for your company, its share price, its supply chain, its culture, and your ability to attract and retain talent. Not only are customers becoming increasingly switched on with the actions of the businesses where they spend their money but all it takes is one negative experience to negatively impact the supply chain.
It goes further than this though, it was agreed that you need to have people in positions that represent the groups that you sell to. It is of vital importance to mirror inside the business those to whom you sell to. From leadership across to your employees on the frontline of delivering customer experience.
Key theme 2: the definition of inclusivity in a retail workplace
Topics of discussion around the table all came back to the fact that there is no one universal definition of inclusivity. What ‘feeling included’ means, will be different for everyone and every background, even more so, achieving diversity across your workforce, even at the most senior and committee levels does not necessarily mean that a company is inclusive.
For some, it is a sense of belonging without having to conform. For some, it might of utmost importance that the culture is an inclusive one where they have support and leadership to perform to their full potential and that inclusive culture is championed across all areas of the business. For others, it might be that an awareness of their personal circumstances, disabilities (that might not be visible) and/or experiences are factored into discussions around their wellbeing, performance, and personal development, that they want to be listened to and understood by their manager on a personal level.
The key here is allowing your employees the opportunity to ask questions and facilitating one-to-one conversations that allow for inclusive conversations. Those one-to-one conversations need to enable two people (manager and employee) to interact privately and share information and for the employee to feel able to let their guard down. Because real change comes from real conversations.
Key theme 3: D&I and the employee value proposition
When it comes to embracing D&I and not being sure where to start, the starting point should always be to revert to your employee value proposition (EVP). Experience is key – and what makes you diverse and how you are inclusive says a lot about your employee brand. What value can you provide to your employees that will make them confident that you have their best interests at heart?
Protecting your EVP is something that every company should take seriously. It's the reason someone should work for your business over anyone else. Your EVP is what makes your company attractive to potential employees. It’s the unique combination of factors that make people want to work for you rather than your competitors. And in short, a starting point would be to make sure that D&I forms an integral part of your employee value proposition.
Both D&I and EVP can start in the same place and work towards the same goals. By making sure that your employees have the best possible environment to work in, that their wellbeing is looked after, that they are equipped with the tools and management they need to perform at their best and by recognising that not one size fits all, the by-product will be a group of individuals that are as happy as they can be. With happy, healthy, and well-supported people, a positive, diverse, and inclusive culture is likely to follow.
We were thrilled to host such a fantastic retail roundtable where we were able to dive into the nitty-gritty of some of the sector's biggest pain points in achieving D&I. Our goal from the day’s event was to raise awareness of one-to-one conversation as the manager's single most valuable tool to make sure people feel included, accepted and celebrated and this was championed across the table as we delved into some of the unique challenges our retail guests were facing.
Whilst leaders focus on ED&I at a strategic level the one-to-one conversation has real scope to help retail businesses better understand the needs of their workforce. By their very nature, regular one-to-ones between managers and employees are a form of inclusive behaviour and through more effective conversations will productivity, retention, and inclusivity flourish. Supporting managers to become mentors through coaching will build trust and rapport amongst your employee base and pave the way for a diverse and inclusive culture to follow.