Diversity and inclusion focus groups offer an opportunity to gather valuable information on the issues and challenges facing diverse talent in an organisation. Insights gathered from a representative sample of staff across an organisation can inform D&I priorities, ensuring that investment in D&I targets the organisation’s most critical issues, having regard to its business strategy. Focus groups complement workforce analytics, providing additional information that cannot be acquired from quantitative analysis alone. For diversity dimensions that are not tracked by an organisation, because of historical or legal reasons, focus groups are a key tool for gathering information on the challenges facing members of those groups.
Due to the sensitive nature of D&I, running an effective D&I focus group requires an experienced, culturally sensitive facilitator who can foster an environment where all parties feel safe to contribute candidly and where all parties display respect for each other’s viewpoints and experiences. When I open D&I focus groups, I explain to employees that their role requires 3C’s; contribution, confidentiality, and candour.
My role, as facilitator, is to gather information regarding each participant’s experience with respect to inclusion. Inclusive work settings are workplaces where;
- employees feel respected
- employees experience a sense of belonging
- employees are empowered to contribute to work processes
- employees have a fair chance of progressing their careers
Inclusive workplaces recognise and value individual differences. When an employee feels that their uniqueness is valued, they are more likely to bring their whole selves to work, including those aspects of their identity that distinguish them from the dominant or leadership group.
To encourage focus group participants to think about what makes them unique, I ask each participant to draw a tree with bare branches. On each branch, I ask them to write a different aspect of their identity. Examples include gender, age, race, nationality, languages, ethnicity, religion, skills and expertise, professional background, academic background, significant relationships, interests & passions, obligations outside of work, health status, personality, etc.
This activity helps participants to recognise and reflect on the varied components of their identity, each of which is of value to the organisation, whether by way of helping the organisation to better understand the needs and concerns of and connect with varied customers and other stakeholders, or by stimulating enhanced decision-making and increased innovation by offering new perspectives, solutions and expertise that challenge entrenched work practices and assumptions.
Directing participants to their unique identity tree, I ask the following questions to uncover whether employees feel their uniqueness is valued and whether they are bringing their whole selves to work:
Do you feel that you that your unique attributes, traits, characteristics, skills, experience and background are valued at work?
Do you feel comfortable being yourself at work?
To what extent do feel that you can disclose your whole identity to your colleagues? Are there aspects of your social identity that you feel you need to keep separate from the workplace?
Do you mask or downplay any aspect of your physical, cultural, spiritual or emotional self at work?
Belonging refers to the perception that you are part of a workgroup and an essential member of that group. Inclusive workplaces nurture employees’ social and emotional needs for connection with others. When an employee feels that they belong to a workgroup, they feel emotionally supported at work and safe to disclose personal information to colleagues. Belonging is the experience of community spirit—being part of a collective whole.
Do you feel that you belong at <employer>? Why or why not?
Do you feel that you a valued and essential part of your workgroup? Why or why not?
Do you ever feel left out at work – either when engaging in work activities or socially?
Do you feel emotionally and socially supported at work?
How would you feel about leaving your workgroup?
A common misperception is that inclusion involves treating all employees the same. Rather, inclusion involves recognising that different employees face unique challenges at work. Inclusive workplaces recognise the varied needs of diverse talent and ensure that work practices accommodate for those differences to ensure all employees can contribute fully to work practices. Examples include physical adjustments like wheelchair ramps or adjustments for the visually impaired, prayer rooms or breastfeeding rooms. Also, scheduling adjustments like flex-work, job-sharing or telecommuting and inclusive employee benefits like parental or adoption leave for all parents, including same-sex couples. Other empowerment initiatives for underrepresented groups involve networking, mentoring and sponsorship.
Have you faced any obstacles in your career progression or ability to participate fully in work processes that are not experienced by all of your colleagues? Describe those obstacles.
Do you face unique challenges that make it difficult for you to get to work or work the hours expected of you at times expected of you?
What could your employer do to better support you?
Do you feel that you have sufficient support to develop your skills and progress your career?
Can you identify people similar to yourself in leadership positions at your organisation?
Do you interact informally or formally with colleagues across the organisation?
How frequently do you interact with colleagues outside of your workgroup/department?
Ultimately, the extent to which an organisation is inclusive is reflected in its development and promotion of diverse talent and the diversity of its leadership team. Inclusive workplaces recognise the role of bias in workplace inequality, scrutinise the employee life-cycle for institutionalised bias and train recruiters and managers in objective selection, appraisal, and development so to ensure that members of non-dominant cultural or social groups have a fair chance of progressing in the organisation alongside members of the traditionally dominant group.