When leaders are asked why their organization should prioritize DEI, you’ll often hear “because it’s the right thing to do.” Absolutely, it is important for any organization, but if your DEI efforts don’t go beyond just checking the boxes, then your initiatives may not be comprehensive enough to bring about meaningful change within the organization.
As we continue to navigate the complexities of our modern world, 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?
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Define your DEI anchor.
“When it comes to diversity, equity, 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.
Achieving a true commitment to DEI takes time and practice. It’s okay if you don’t get it right 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 organization?
Ensure you have support from leadership.
The responsibility of promoting DEI within an organization cannot be assigned to just one person or consultant. In order to succeed, you need buy-in from leadership. Senior Leadership buy-in is essential for the success of any DEI program. What is happening at the bottom typically won’t change if nothing is changing at the top. For organizations that are serious about improving the experience of underrepresented employees, senior leadership needs 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.
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And it can’t be reduced to a mere, simple checklist. It is the responsibility of leadership to determine 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 level where you’re hoping to improve hiring practices? Or at a level where you’re requiring learning opportunities like 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 for managers, it’s important to seek advice from outside consultants and DEI 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 effectively promote awareness and sensitivity towards DEI, organizations need to successfully harness the energy and curiosity of their employees in order to drive momentum. However, depending on where your workforce is in the DEI progress index 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. The concept of affinity spaces are not new, as they tend to form organically and frequently occur in various settings.
“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 organizations continue to embrace DEI initiatives in ever-increasing numbers, it is critical that employees fully comprehend their role in achieving DEI goals. To achieve this, dig deeper into what an inclusive workplace entails and the transformative impact it can have on your organization. In essence, your “why” must move beyond surface-level understanding and into a more profound exploration of the power of inclusivity, towards belonging.