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Here’s a diversity programme that actually works | WIRED UK


“When I first came in, the state of affairs in terms of representation of women of colour in leadership wasn’t where we wanted to be,” says Aweh, who co-founded Elevate while bearing the unwieldy title of senior learning and development manager for women, non binary and underrepresented talent development. “Rather than just focus on recruiting, getting more senior women of colour externally, we wanted to focus on investing in talent internally.” So far, Aweh has run three cohorts of Elevate, and the numbers bear out her success, with more than a third of alumni subsequently being promoted.

Ideas such as critical diversity management are still young in terms of management theories, says Anthony Thomas, a lecturer at the University of South Wales who is studying critical diversity management. “If you read any research papers, there’s always a long list at the bottom calling for more research, because this is an area in its infancy,” he explains.

More research about what works and doesn’t is desperately needed, but because of the sensitive nature of such programmes, companies often aren’t willing to share their successes — let alone their failures. “Organisations invest a lot of money in diversity inclusion,” says Thomas. “And if it goes wrong, you’re not going to highlight and publicise it — you will try and find the small positives and highlight those.”

That’s why projects like DoorDash’s Elevate are so intriguing. Here’s what the American food-delivery startup did, how success was tracked, what your own company can learn – and, perhaps most importantly, what worked and what didn’t.

Instead, most of her initial time was spent enlightening management about the differences between mentorship and sponsorship. With the former, managers may offer support, training, advice and coaching, but Aweh says a sponsor should also be an active advocate. “A sponsor is someone who is willing to use their power and influence to help folks to accelerate or elevate – hence the name of the programme,” she explains, “A sponsor is going to pound the table and say, ‘I have a person with these strong skill sets, let’s put them on this project’.”

Address bias first. For the first Elevate trial, fellows were nominated by management team members – but that didn’t work very well. “If you’re going to have a nomination process, you have to make sure that folks are aware of their biases,” Aweh says, adding the process has now been changed to widen who can take part.

Raise profiles. The first cohort of 16 fellows had a year of support, meeting with their sponsor at least once a month. They were also brought into key high-stakes meetings, says Aweh, including leadership team meetings. “That gives them not only visibility, but helps them understand the language that leaders are speaking at that level,” she says. Plus, it helps fellows widen their network. “They have their executive sponsor, but you also need to have the peers of their sponsor advocate for them as well.”

For subsequent iterations of Elevate, the monthly face-to-face time with sponsors was kept as was the invitation to key meetings. However, the programme was streamlined from twelve months to six and additional workshops were added to help participants gain skills – and get to know each other better. “They’re building core skill sets around leadership development but also getting to build community amongst each other,” she says

Find external help. Another key change between the trial and subsequent programmes was the introduction of meetings with Aweh herself to help fellows plan their future careers as well as access to an external executive coach. “Having an external coach was intentional, as it creates much more of a safe space to speak candidly and freely, as opposed to having someone internal to the company,” she says.

Learn about your differences. The latest cohort benefited from a further change. Previously, Elevate fellows would take the Hogan personality assessment, to help them better understand their own needs personally and professionally, says Aweh. In the third round, managers also took the assessment, to help spot disconnects between fellows and their higher-ups. Since that was introduced, managers across the company have asked Aweh how to introduce that for their entire teams. “The feedback has been really positive,” she says.

Collect data. But does it work? To track the success – or otherwise – of Elevate, Aweh has run surveys before and after each iteration of the programme. The surveys measure satisfaction rates for participants, including what they thought of the coaching and their own sponsor, so any who aren’t stepping up to the challenge can get necessary feedback. Aweh also tracks retention and promotions of attendees, as well as internal mobility, saying sideways steps can be equally impactful for people’s careers and job satisfaction.

After three cohorts, Elevate has shown signs of success, with a 35 percent promotion rate and a further 20 percent of alumni who have taken sideways steps inside the company. Aweh didn’t quantify the retention rate, but says it is “really, really strong”.

Building diversity and inclusion programmes. How can other companies make this work? Because companies and the challenges they face all differ, Elevate can’t simply be lifted and dropped into place at your own employer — indeed, Aweh borrowed elements she saw work at Microsoft and LinkedIn, tweaking them to DoorDash’s own needs. That said, Aweh and Thomas do have advice for setting up such a programme in your own business.

This content was originally published here.

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