Because creating true diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace doesn’t happen overnight, it can be seen as a big mountain for employers to climb.

But Melanie Hill, Chief Marketing Officer at Zellis, prefers to describe the process as a “steady stroll” down to an inviting beach. Undertaken consistently, this journey will result in you achieving your DEI goals and reaching a happier place.

Speaking on HR Grapevine’s Workplace of Now podcast, Melanie acknowledged that moving the DEI needle can take some time. To illustrate the point, she referred to a tier-one bank she used to work for, which embarked on a multi-year cultural change programme about 15 years ago.

It took [the tier-one bank] 10 years to really make an impact on how inclusive and diverse their organisation was. It moved away from being a closed decision-making environment to being a really inclusive, creative one, where people were invited to have their opinions heard, to make mistakes quickly and move on, and where leaders didn’t always have to know all the right answers. They absolutely saw a positive impact on their bottom line.

Melanie Hill, Chief Marketing Officer, Zellis

1. Leaders must champion change to achieve DEI goals


One of the key reasons behind the success is that change was driven from the top, setting the agenda and providing the impetus needed.

It was driven from the top because the CEO was completely passionate about the fact he needed to have a diverse and inclusive organisation.

Melanie Hill, Chief Marketing Officer, Zellis

2. Think about working practices

At the same time, it’s important for employers to note how hybrid and remote working could be masking various DEI-related problems. This Future Forum report is not the only one to reveal that ethnic minority employees often find it easier and less stressful to work from home.

I suppose my worry is that extended kinds of hybrid working will not address the issues there. So I worry about the long-term impact of people not coming into the office and the things it may mask, which companies may not even be aware of but need to be if they’re to start addressing them.

Melanie Hill, Chief Marketing Officer, Zellis

3. Be honest and transparent

“You have to be honest about where you are today,” Hill explains. “You have to use data to reveal that and help you make decisions, and you also have to be honest about where you want to get to. What are your DEI goals?”

A further key consideration, meanwhile, is the need to be transparent about the fact that the move towards becoming a diverse, equitable and inclusive organisation is “going to take time, and you’re not always going to get it right”.

It’s about the journey for me. I don’t have a problem with companies saying ‘yeah, this is where we are today and we don’t have a particularly diverse workforce…but we’re aware of it and it’s important to us…and we recognise it’s the right thing to do. So for me, it’s that message that’s most important.

Melanie Hill, Chief Marketing Officer, Zellis
DEI goals 6 steps Zellis (1)

4. Understand your workforce

It’s crucial that employers understand what the business truly looks like in DEI terms before embarking on their transformation journey. That means gathering diversity data. Many employers may already collect information in some areas, such as ethnicity and gender. But far fewer gather it about other equally important DEI considerations such as disability or employee sexuality.

You can’t move the needle unless you have your data points. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, you can’t set policies because you don’t know what your problems are, and if you can’t set policies to make change, you can’t recognise if you’re moving the needle.

Melanie Hill, Chief Marketing Officer, Zellis

The challenge is that gathering personal information, particularly if it relates to protected characteristics, can prove tricky if there is a lack of trust between frontline employees and their managers. Recent Zellis research found that employees in the UK, and more so in Ireland, can be hesitant about sharing relevant data.

“You almost get in this vicious cycle as employees don’t trust what you’re going to do with the data and therefore ask, why would they give it to you?” Melanie says. “But that means you can’t get the benchmark, so you can’t create the baseline for improvement.”

5. Find ways to build trust

Building trust that the organisation will always do the right thing with the data it collects “can only come from the top, so it goes back to that point”.

Your leadership team have to be passionate and driven, and people have got to believe it wants to make change. If you don’t have that, people will feel like it’s a tick box exercise. They won’t be interested in being part of it because they won’t believe you’re going to do the right thing with the data.”

Melanie Hill, Chief Marketing Officer, Zellis

6. Be aware of cultural and regional nuances

Companies should also beware of asking staff the wrong, and sometimes inappropriate, questions. Ensure that questions only relate to data that’s relevant to achieving your aims. Take cultural sensitivities into account.

“So, for example, in Northern Ireland, we recognise you have to be sensitive if asking questions about religion. In India, you have to be very sensitive, or probably not ask questions, about sexuality. That means you’ve got to be very, very careful.”

One way of getting it right is to take a wide range of views from around the organisation about what questions are or aren’t suitable.

It’s all about getting a broad perspective, pulling in all those data points and being honest that you might not get it right and are learning. It’s about that journey down to the idyllic beach, embracing the learnings and education along the way.

Melanie Hill, Chief Marketing Officer, Zellis

Learn more from our recent article on DEI: How to close the gap between talk and action