3 Inclusive Workplace Strategies to Defrost the Frozen Middle

Data-Driven Approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Download

It goes without saying that inclusive workplaces are better at attracting talent, and even more important for retaining and upskilling your existing employees. However, organizations are still working towards diversifying every level of their organization and the frozen middle remains a universal issue challenging many companies.

DEI remains a top priority for leading organizations, with many companies linking bonuses towards hiring quotas and D&I benchmarks. By understanding who can get stuck in the frozen middle, CHRO’s and executives can help employees surpass it and improve employee retention.

What is the old and new Frozen Middle?

The frozen middle previously described the role middle management plays in a company’s progress when strategies handed down from the executive level are not carried out. The frozen middle was an area of frustration, miscommunication between different levels of an organization, and a lack of recognition.

In light of the calls for action surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion, executive leaders and companies are now examining the frozen middle from a DEI perspective. 

The frozen middle acts as a type of glass ceiling, an invisible barrier preventing minority demographics from rising beyond certain levels within an organization. 

Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, executive director of Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, is known for her work in assisting global organizations to develop under-represented talent and overcome the frozen middle

In her work, she’s found one of the main issues is an increasing gap between old and new leadership paradigms, which creates a challenge in driving innovation and meaningful change. 

Who’s in the Frozen Middle?

Any person that identifies a part of a demographic group that faces a lack of progress for systematic reasons or unconscious bias may feel stuck in the frozen middle.

This doesn’t refer to just middle managers. More often, employees feel unsupported and even stuck in entry level, associate, or intermediate roles while their peers are promoted and surpass them. 

  • Is everyone’s voice being heard?
  • Is there career mapping and mentorship opportunities?
  • Is everyone eligible for upskilling and training opportunities?
  • Are there systemic obstacles in place that cause employees to leave?
  • Are they able to contribute to the long-term success of their company?

The easiest way to thaw the frozen middle? Develop better communication from executive leadership on inclusive diversity at every level of your company.

Inclusive Workplace Strategies to Defrost the Frozen Middle

1. Better awareness of your workforce demographics

What is the actual breakdown of your workforce demographics? Developing action-oriented policies starts with objectively measuring and understanding your baseline. People analytics can help organizational leaders measure demographics across the organization at every level. 

These demographics include:

  • Race 
  • Gender
  • Disability status
  • Educational experience
  • LGBTQ status
  • Religion
  • Parent/caregiver status
  • Socioeconomic background
  • Veteran status

When examining workforce demographics, AI-powered technology take data analysis to the next level by applying an intersectional focus. Most people identify with overlapping demographics and may face different barriers, such as the lived experience of a black woman as opposed to a physically-disabled man. 

Establishing benchmarks is the first step in measuring your future goals and working towards a more inclusive workplace. 

2. Understanding the leaks in your pipeline

Carving the path to success may look different for the individual employee. However, there may be patterns of employees leaving your organization or becoming stagnant. 

There’s a strong tie between inclusion and success, specifically for employees who feel they’ve been overlooked or not recognized for their contributions. McKinsey’s Why Inclusion Matters survey found particularly high levels of negative sentiment around equality and fairness of opportunities. 

This survey result is primarily about leadership and accountability, showing the increasing need for recognition and inclusion engagement in companies. Every organization may have different inclusion barriers that lead to unequal opportunity and eventually churn. 

  • For example, how many women with children are at the executive level compared to men with children? 
  • This could be due to a lack of inclusion around for employees with caregiving responsibilities or unconscious caregiver bias. 
  • Organizations can develop inclusive strategies such as offering paid maternity leave,  part-time work options, and general work hours flexibility, all to help retain female talent. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for creating an inclusive workplace. Before brainstorming inclusion initiatives, always start with your goal of equal opportunity. These under-represented groups that feel excluded could become great sources of untapped talent to be nurtured and help contribute to the long-term success of your organization. 

3. Coaching for inclusive leadership

One of the most common barriers to succession planning is organizations failing to fully leverage their tools. 54% of organizations with effective succession management programs are using formal tools to identify potential leaders and monitor their progress. 

Another effective career pathing technique is mentoring. Coaching is a great way to guide identified leaders to positions over time, while gaining experience along the way.

The Centre for Global Inclusion offers a checklist about coaching for inclusive supervisors and leaders, including:

  1. Data analysis with an intersectional focus
  2. Strategic leadership development using Global Diversity & Inclusion Benchmarks
  3. Coaching managers on effective conversations about inclusion, including race and gender
  4. Commitment from leadership, including an annual internal conference on division leadership

This is also a great way to identify communication gaps. Leaders who are trained and committed to creating an inclusive workplace are more likely to identify and help employees feeling unheard.

Fostering an inclusive workplace and building a diverse workforce is a long-term goal that makes an immense impact on an organization’s innovation and financial performance. Talk to a member of our team today about DEI Intelligence today and how your organization can leverage it to your full potential.

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