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Inclusive Onboarding: Can it level the playing field?

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Looking for diversity when recruiting is important. But diversity without inclusion is mere lip service. What you do after will define how successful you are at building an inclusive and equitable company.

While the primary role of onboarding has always been to set your new hires up for success, it is also the best time to help them feel like they belong. The right kind of new hire experience can be powerful in many ways, leading to greater loyalty, productivity, and overall happiness.

But that feeling of belonging can only come from feeling accepted and acknowledged. It comes from feeling welcomed and seen, and knowing that your new colleagues have your back.

What is a level playing field?

Whether at school, in college, on the playing field, or at the workplace - a level playing field implies a state in which conditions in a competition or situation are fair for everyone. 

At work, it can be described as a place where everyone has the opportunity and the required support to grow and thrive in the same way.

The concept of equal opportunity employment has long been established in the HR space. But now, companies are working towards not just preventing discrimination, but actively promoting inclusion. 

According to an article on Linkedin, between 2015 and 2020, the number of people across the world with the title “head of diversity” more than doubled, “director of diversity” titles went up by 75%, and “chief diversity officer” went up by 68%.

So clearly there is intent. And this trend is going to continue globally.

But as clearly pointed out in this Charter newsletter, diversity leaders have their work cut out for them.

They have to not just rally people around their mandate, but also gather resources and infrastructure to create a level playing field at the workplace.

We cannot make the workplace better if we can’t be honest, transparent, and willing to create a more inclusive and fair workplace.

Where do you begin?

For an initiative to be successful and sustainable, it has to begin with assessing where things stand today and determining what the end goal needs to be. It requires a fair amount of introspection starting right from the top. Leadership and board members need to all be involved in this process.

Some of the broad questions that need to be asked are:

  • What is your company’s policy on diversity, equity, and inclusion today?
  • What does an inclusive workplace look like to you?
  • What are some explicit or overt biases? - for e.g. current representation, who or how you recruit.
  • What are some of the implicit biases you would like to address - for e.g. in-group bias, or affinity bias?

Once you have done this exercise you will realize how much can be done at your organization. Whether it is your company’s recruitment policy, the kind of benefits you offer, your L&D initiatives, or your company culture at large.

Why is onboarding so important?

Onboarding is a pivotal moment for making employees feel included from Day One. It is the first contact your employee has with your organization from the inside. This time is as much about getting your new hire settled in as it is about setting them up for success.

Building an inclusive onboarding experience is the first step toward creating an inclusive workplace and company culture.

Onboarding is that phase during which you can define and set a standardized process. Especially for multinational companies, you have to ensure there is no bias, conscious or unconscious, permitted while designing and delivering your new hire experience, no matter who or where they are.

Onboarding is also when you gather the most amount of information about your new hire. This valuable data can help you tailor and customize each experience. For example, does your onboarding process account for different needs and requirements? If you are hiring a person with a disability, they may need to know about the company's accessibility initiatives first. Similarly, a caregiver or young parent may prefer information on flexible timings or additional insurance cover.

It’s all about Access

In another blog we spoke about identifying different employee/new hire personas to pre-empt specific needs and questions that might come up in new hire's journey. The automatic next step is to determine how you can address each one of those.

In socioeconomics, we speak about access to education being the key to elevating people from poverty and unemployment. Within the workplace, it is about access to information, and a whole lot more.

We have tried to categorize them as follows:

1. Access to knowledge and information

This is about delivering the right information - and taking it one step further. We mentioned how employee data can be used to deliver customized campaigns tailored to what they care about or need most.

But for it to be truly effective, we need to ask some deeper questions to understand your new hire's reality.

We ran a survey last year asking people about their onboarding experience. In the resulting Onboarding Out of Office report, only 48% said they were given information about the tools being used at work. For those who didn't receive this information, this implies the assumption that everyone is comfortable or will be able to figure out what tools are needed and how they work.

But the pandemic made us realize that not everyone owns a PC or laptop at home. It is a luxury many have but this cannot be an expectation. Similarly, how many people have used onboarding tools before. Are they comfortable using these programs? Is your app intuitive enough to make it easy to use?

Because not everyone has used onboarding tools before, it’s imperative to cater to a diverse audience with differing levels of experience and digital skill sets. The lack of access to this kind of prior knowledge could potentially destroy your new hire's confidence. 

So now let's ask ourselves again - is my onboarding experience truly accessible? Have we accounted for the lowest common denominator?

2. Access - to be heard and seen

Everyone wants to be seen. But not everyone feels empowered to share their opinions or thoughts. Talking about hopes and dreams and professional ambitions are learned traits that come from having a voice. For many people, this is not a given. As people managers and leaders, it requires us to ask, ask, ask. To open up channels of communication and start responding right from the beginning.

By opening up communication from the get-go, you reduce the scope for faulty decisions based on assumptions linked to our own implicit/explicit biases. Instead, by basing our decisions on data and actual information provided by the individual, you can ensure you are responding in the right way, and not just following generic procedures.

Ultimately, no matter what policies you have in place, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Do your employees feel heard? Are you asking them what they think and feel?

You have created processes, but no process can ever be perfect. So how do you know what is working and what is not? Again, include your new colleagues in this too. Treat them as we treat our customers - ask for feedback, run pulse checks - and course correct.

3. Access to community and peers

The Onboarding Out of Office report shows that most employees reported a very low presence and participation of a buddy during their onboarding journey. This assumption that people will figure things out on their own is a crucial mistake that many organizations make. In large enterprises, this might resolve itself over time thanks to shared cubicles or watercooler interactions. But in a hybrid or remote setting, being introduced to a buddy or partner who can show you the ropes informally is imperative.

And that is just one part of it. By giving your new hires access to a supportive community they can identify with, and therefore reach out to worrying about calling out one's differences or fear of judgment, you can help them settle in faster. This level of comfort can reduce your ramp-up time and instill a strong sense of belonging,  automatically leading to increased productivity and company loyalty.

4. Access to opportunities

Opportunity. That all-important word which means so much to every one of us.

According to the Pandemic Playback report, 56% of those we interviewed said that work and career progression were driving factors for them choosing to stay.

Onboarding can be that moment when you demonstrate transparency and show your new hire that you have their best interests in mind. It is as simple as asking what their personal and professional goals are, and then creating guided journeys that will take them towards achieving them.

Another example - most of us look for ways to grow within the organization before looking outwards. Chart out internal growth opportunities - whether across departments or through global mobility opportunities. This will help your new colleagues plan their lives better - while reducing your new hire attrition rate.

5. Access to mentors and coaches

Only 54% of new hires had access to their managers during their first few months of employment - Onboarding Out of Office Report 2021.

Informal coaching networks, great mentors, and formal and informal sponsors are all a crucial part of the way people get ahead at work.

For instance, in a workplace where most senior people are men, it is other men who tend to have the most access. Whether it is through formal networking programs, but also through informal and more powerful connections made outside of work.

The good news is that some organizations are confronting these barriers and making specific efforts to assign mentors to women and other historically marginalized groups. But there is a long way to go yet.

Maybe one way to gauge if your company is getting this right is to take a look at your 'high-potential' group - the set of people that your leadership or management team would consider most likely to succeed. Do they come from similar backgrounds, educational qualifications, or communities? How did they make it to this group? What role did the company have in getting them there?

In conclusion, there are so many things you can do to lay the foundation for an inclusive and equitable workplace right from onboarding onwards.

Please reach out to us to see how we can enable this for your organization. You can schedule your one-on-one demo here. Do also leave us a note about what you hope to achieve so we can customize your demo for you.


About the Author:

Debkanya Dhar is a journalist by training and a communicator by passion. She firmly believes that it’s the little things that can create a better world and she brings this belief to her work at Tydy. 

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