The Do’s of DEI Strategies
Pam Sornson, JD
Perhaps the biggest ‘don’t do’ activity to avoid including in a robust DEI strategy is ‘everything that’s been done before.’ Despite decades of ‘awareness building’ of the realities and consequences of unfair workplace practices, the needle has barely budged toward true enlightenment or improvement. That reality suggests that what’s been done before hasn’t worked and that the challenge of righting those wrongs now requires a different focus with an enhanced perspective.
Recent socially fraught events only magnify the need for change, and it is heartening to note that many companies are electing to rise to the challenge. Gartner reports that the number of organizations now prioritizing DEI projects has almost doubled since 2019. Just the added attention augers well for the cause, but in order for the effort to actually achieve improvements in DEI numbers, leaders must also be aware of what systems and strategies actually work to achieve those ends. Fortunately, there are both entities and experts who’ve done the digging and are offering insights into what to do to build a truly diverse, inclusive, and successful enterprise.
The Big To-Do’s
1. Start Talking About Diversity & Inclusion
Having a ‘diverse’ workforce means that employees come from different backgrounds, with different cultural nuances and individual experiences that influence their perspectives. It is inevitable that clashes between ideals, ideas, and individuals will occur, often because those involved aren’t aware of the distinctions that divide them. An appropriate response to these dilemmas is to start talking about where the communication disconnect is happening and clarifying what everyone needs to know to find common ground.
Discussions about aspects of the DEI conundrum – skin color, cultural heritage, gender identities, etc. – can be challenging to start but will be integral to the success of the DEI strategy. These types of conversations are also often the strongest indicator of a healthy and diverse company. Organizations where DEI chats are common and encouraged often have happier workers who appreciate the open and respectful culture.
2. Start Talking About Social Identity
One facet of the DEI spectrum that is not well understood is that of ‘social identity,’ the encompassed truth of each person, including race, ethnicity, religion, gender, socio-economic status, and other differentiators. Often hidden behind one primary distinction, skin color or gender identity as examples, the myriad of elements that make up each individual are also those that often hold the most emotional value to them. Corporations that invest in understanding the depth and breadth of the social identities embedded in their workforce gain insights that can guide the development of strategies that address and support those nuances.
Making this project element a little more difficult is the fact that, often, people don’t recognize or understand their own ‘social identity.’ In these cases and to ensure that all workers’ needs are addressed, it becomes significant for the organization to pursue two angles when examining ‘social identity’:
Firstly, raise awareness of the phenomenon itself and explore how it affects each employee. Those workers in a dominant class, for example, may be unaware of how their ingrained attitudes skew their perceptions of their colleagues.
Next, raise awareness of the organization’s determination to provide supports for every worker as those respond to the individual’s personal ‘social identity.’ In many cases, this determination may require financial investments to generate supports that reflect the full strata of their diverse employee roster.
Both the civil rights issues that have flared up over the past two years and the COVID-19 pandemic have laid bare many of the fallacies that underpin today’s work world. Examining those falsehoods reveals that much of today’s social and industrial infrastructure is designed to meet the needs of only a few small but highly entitled populations. In the work world of the future – and today is the future – every organization must address the ‘social identity’ needs of every varied, distinct, and diverse population if an enterprise intends to succeed in the post-COVID economy.
3. Launch a Coaching Culture
As with any new endeavor, a little coaching can go a long way to ensure success, and coaching through a DEI lens can speed the revelation and elimination of both known and hidden biases. Some organizations develop a team of DEI champions to address DEI concerns as they emerge across corporate sectors. These ‘equity anchors‘ perform many tasks, from identifying and resolving DEI challenges to designing appropriate channels for communications and improvements.
An enlightened management team, in particular, is critical to a full implementation of the DEI strategy. A well-trained management staff keeps their doors and ears open to concerns, offers feedback when necessary, and can assist with designing responsive changes.
A team of dedicated mentors can also be helpful. These specially trained professionals can provide deeper insights into challenges and look ‘beyond the box’ for truly adaptive solutions. They can also contribute to strategy development and implementation.
High-level sponsors will also add heft to the significance of the DEI initiative. Companies signal to their workforce and community their support for and investment in a diverse and inclusive culture when they designate a trained and appropriate C-Suite member to sponsor and oversee the DEI overhaul.
Developing an enterprise-wide DEI team builds DEI awareness and competency into the foundational fabric of the organization. That effort will result in a happier, better-engaged workforce and attract a broader, more diverse consumer base.
The impetus to explore and expand a DEI strategy is growing in importance in companies based around the globe. As of mid-2021, more than 1,600 CEOs committed to following through on the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion Pledge. The number of companies that addressed DEI initiatives in their earnings calls rose from 4% in Q1 2019 to 40% in Q1 2022. Those organizations will almost certainly see higher levels of profit and productivity when they allow their workers’ needs to set their DEI tone and then follow through with efforts to make their organization more fair, safe, and inclusive for their entire workforce.
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