How to Find Your Organization’s DEI Anchor in 2022

When leaders are asked why an organization should prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, you’ll often hear “because it’s the right thing to do.” And yes, it absolutely is, but if your company’s DEI thinking doesn’t go beyond that, then your diversity initiatives might not be nuanced enough to create true organizational change. 

In 2022, it’s time to focus on taking the conversation further and dive deeper into what building an inclusive culture means. More importantly, how do we get beyond just conversations, how do we turn awareness into action?

Our recent DEI December webinar series at OpenSesame assembled some of the brightest minds in DEI for nearly two weeks of discussions around how organizations can level up their workforces and build psychologically safe environments. 

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Define your DEI anchor. 

“When it comes to diversity and inclusion, it’s not something where you can fly in an expert for two hours, do one training and then you’re done,” said Tara Cooper, DEI consultant at OpenSesame. 

True commitment to DEI takes time, and you may not get it 100 percent correct on the first few tries. In order to hone in on an effective DEI strategy, it helps to define what your DEI anchor is as an initial step. An anchor for DEI is a key area or mission that you wish to focus your organization’s time and resources on. It helps you to set priorities and align on goals. The anchor can be socioeconomic, political or cultural in nature, but it gives you a lens through which to start building an action plan.

So leaders should take some time to self-reflect at both the professional and personal level. What should be the DEI vision for your company?

Ensure you have support from leadership. 

The responsibility of DEI can’t fall on one person or a single consultant. In order to succeed, you need buy-in from leadership. Executive buy-in is essential for the success of any diversity program. What is happening at the bottom typically won’t change if nothing is changing at the top. For companies that are serious about improving the experience of employees of color, executives need to take charge and drive the conversation. 

“Much of this work is pulling the wool back from peoples eyes and showing how insidious unconscious bias can be and how socialized we are to be discriminatory. We want people to slow down on their reactions to others and think about how they treat people,” says Cooper. 

Start your organization’s DEI journey by accessing our DEI toolkit.

And it can’t be a simple checklist. Leadership must decide how deep the organization is willing to go and what they’re willing to invest in DEI. And that will look different for each organization. It depends where an organization is in its DEI journey. Are you at the stage where you’re hoping to improve hiring practices? Or at a stage where you’re requiring unconscious bias training for all employees?

“There are trainings that aren’t super deep but their purpose is to just get conversations started. But if you’re wanting true transformational change, you’re using outside consultants, you’re taking those extra steps to ensure psychological safety and build that proper scaffolding,” says Cooper.

In addition to inclusive leadership training from managers, it’s important to seek advice from outside consultants and diversity subject matter experts. Bringing in a third-party helps to catch problems that leadership may not see and to execute a roadmap for the future. 

Foster employee engagement and commitment. 

To increase awareness and sensitivity around DEI, companies need to successfully harness the energy and curiosity of their employees in order to drive momentum. Depending on where your workforce is, some conversations with employees might feel new or uncomfortable. 

DEI should be a leadership directive, but says Cooper, it’s crucial that individuals are doing the work at every level of the organization. She also stresses the importance of affinity groups, also known as employee resource groups, for workers of marginalized identities. 

“I’m all about self-care. So if you need to have an affinity space to discuss the issues you need to discuss and build yourself up so you can be more productive in the workspace, then that’s what they need to be able to do.”

Affinity spaces sometimes come under fire for being “divisive” or a form of “self-segregation,” but Cooper encourages leaders who feel that way to look at the larger picture. Affinity spaces are not new, they happen naturally all the time. 

“Think of all the instances where employees may separate into subgroups in an organization, the gatherings where it’s only men or only white people. If you only get nervous when the subset is around a certain race or gender, then you should question that.”

As the number of organizations launching DEI initiatives grows bigger, it’s important that employees understand the part they have to play in DEI goals. Your “why” must delve below the surface and into a deeper exploration of what an inclusive space looks like and what it can do for your work culture.