Inclusion Plus Institute

DEI, Where to begin?

2020 shook our lives into awareness and in some cases dislodged us from the comfort of the status quo.  At a personal level, the murder of George Floyd prompted deep reflection in some of us.  At a corporate level, the notion of equity expanded into business considerations around corporate cultures supporting or ignoring Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

Venus Piñeyro

CEO and Founder

2020 shook our lives into awareness and in some cases dislodged us from the comfort of the status quo.  At a personal level, the murder of George Floyd prompted deep reflection in some of us.  At a corporate level, the notion of equity expanded into business considerations around corporate cultures supporting or ignoring Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

Working with businesses who want to make a change, a common question we hear is the following:

“We want to become more inclusive and diverse… How do we do this and where do we start?”

The first question to answer is WHO?

You are reading this article, so you will be involved whether providing direction, keeping the effort in motion or sponsoring the program. In addition to you, the success of the effort hinges upon executive involvement.  What does that mean?  Simply put, if a DE&I effort is to succeed it requires support from those that can make decisions about resources (time and money), the culture (desired norms of behavior), and a longer-term commitment.  

We often encounter that there is a group in a company that shows more enthusiasm whether it is the community or the executive team, however, this is an undertaking that will take BOTH groups to succeed. 

  •  A grass-roots-only effort will not have the teeth needed to change a culture.  Lacking the support to dedicate the time it will most likely end up in disenchanted and burnt activists. 
  • A top-down only strategy will be met with resistance and without broader employee support it will be quickly derailed. 

Create a cross-functional team with support at the C-suite level and representation from different groups in the organization. If you are lucky enough to have a person or group solely dedicated to DE&I, they will be the glue to bring all your stakeholders together but they will not be able to do it alone.

Step 0 - Understand the WHAT

I list this as step 0 because before you even start setting a course of action, you must have a shared understanding of the meaning of the concepts or better yet, the experiences.  We have all seen the letter soups, DE&I, DEI&B, CD&I, ED&I, JEDI and so many more.  There are key concepts you need to understand and most be able to connect to implications in your business or organization.  Later you will thread them in a cohesive narrative articulating your key values and the broader systemic implications.

What is Diversity?

There are a dozen dimensions of Diversity (Cognitive, Gender Identity, Generational, Race, etc.).  Understand the impact that each has on an individual and how your organization approaches them. By doing so, you will uncover ways in which your business is and isn’t diverse and set the stage for desired changes in your Talent Processes. At this stage in your journey, learn about unconscious biases and if needed get the help of an expert.  This knowledge will hardwire an aperture that will let in the light of critical self-reflection. 

What is Inclusion?

You are striving to become an inclusive workplace. This will result in measurable outcomes such as a reduction in turnover and increased engagement.  You will also be rewarded with other proven benefits such as enhanced problem solving, a jump in innovation and other financial gains such as a Return on Investment. Paint a picture through words describing what your culture supports and why you strive to become an inclusive workplace.

Reflect on what it looks and feels like when an individual is included and identify the business benefits of realizing inclusion as part of your culture.  What are the costs when people feel excluded? How is inclusion practiced at the individual and group level? What are the mechanisms and tools that your organization can use to create an inclusive culture? 

What is Equity?

An equitable culture is one of the outcomes of practicing Inclusion.  There is a personal reward to living up to our self-identified values as a human. (Who believes they are a bad person?) However, equitable business practices will result in a workforce that does their best work for you and your business.  

Understand the difference between equity and equality, and how your systems and processes promote or discourage each one of them.  And then, create guiding principles for your business and use them as a north star most importantly when engaging in critical people events such as hiring, promotions, performance evaluations, or in everyday processes such as meeting management.

Weaving the story into your business

You can learn about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging on an ongoing basis, the more you know and internalize the better you are able to implement needed changes in your business.  This is a journey and it is important that you know you do not have to be an expert for the benefits of it to be realized.  The multifaceted team you created powered by the common understanding outlined above will enable you to craft an adaptive plan that suits your unique business.

Step 1 - Determine where you stand today

“Know yourself to improve yourself” – Comte

Many times, those with the most power to make changes have the least exposure and awareness of the lived experience of the vast majority of the members of a group.  

Before solidifying your trajectory and goals, understanding the reality of your organizations’ experience is critical.  Not only will this knowledge give you a baseline to measure your progress but it will also provide you with the insights you need to prioritize your first 12 months.  

Gathering this information can be done in a multi-phased approach.

Develop a survey to get the pulse of your company – quantitative

You will be measuring what is happening inside your organization and the sentiment of your employees. Understanding how included employees feel and their experience of fairness in the workplace will give a rich data set identifying areas that require the most attention. (If your company already has a survey it can be revised to include critical questions on the subject). 

Focus groups and Listening Sessions – qualitative

After you have this quantitative data, we recommend hiring an external neutral person to gather qualitative data through focus groups and listening sessions. This will provide nuanced information that will not only give you additional benchmarks but it will also provide unequivocal information to help move skeptics move toward action.  

Although we initially see people react with disbelief when faced with anecdotal evidence of a misaligned culture the following reaction is a desire rooted in action to want to fix the perceived problem.  The stories gathered through these listening sessions are paired with the learning to spur the engagement and activation required for the next step. 

We will discuss at length pitfalls to avoid in a later article, however, for now, make sure you are not collecting data for data’s sake, and have a plan or an idea about what you will do with your findings.

Step 2 - Develop your corporate DEI statement

“If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything” – Hamilton

Now that you know where you are, you must define and declare what you are aiming for in clear and simple language.  The shape this takes in corporations is to articulate your DE&I company belief statement.  

Your DEI statement will accomplish 2 things:

  1. Clarify for your leaders how the company’s values connect to the principles of DE&I
  2. Tell your employees, customers, and the world what you believe in and who you are as a corporation 

In the same way, those decision makers at a company review and discuss financial, market, and strategic objectives, a DEI approach requires discussing how this strategy is linked to the organizational objectives and the other important business directives. 

A DEI statement can typically be accomplished in a few dedicated conversations provided everyone has done the learning required in Step 0.  

A critical piece of this stage is to openly communicate that this is the first step in the journey and not the end of it. 

Step 3 - Build and broaden the support from all

“People will support that which they help to create” Mary Kay Ash

DE&I is a journey and every company and individual will find themselves in a different state of knowledge, experience, and growth.  Understanding that there are as many different perspectives and expectations, as you have people in your company, is critical to the process of gaining broad support.  

If you earn the buy-in from your employees and colleagues every person will have a multiplier effect on any initiative you plan and carry out.  Just as with a safety journey or a customer journey, the process and changes will not happen overnight.  

Sharing with your community what has activated this process, why you have decided to make changes, and inviting their input will develop an atmosphere of collaboration and the feeling of “we are in this together” vs “this is something being done to us”.  

A great way to meet everyone where they are and then push the needle forward is to offer opportunities for all to have learning experiences around critical subjects.  Some of these may be facilitator-led experiential conversations on the topics of Unconscious Bias, Power and Privilege, Inclusive Leadership, and how to become an Ally.

This training will create an aperture for consideration and reflection.  If the company has limited resources, ensure all your line managers or people with supervisory roles gain this knowledge.  This is critical because you will need them to support their teams as they start to have conversations about these subjects and to appreciate why it is important for all to become knowledgeable. 

Step 4 - Building a comprehensive Strategic Plan “How do we get there”

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A Strategic Plan is one of the most involved steps, partly because it should stay in a state of constant revision . The first iteration will cover areas that you identify as high impact and low resource requirements.

Build a 12 month program that you can work through and show progress to build on the wins and gain momentum. In addition, you will articulate a longer 2-5 year plan so that elements that take more lead time, resources and effort can be planned into future budgets, headcount, etc.

A framework for the Strategic Plan will include a communications plan, prioritization rubric, Key Performance Indicators, how you will measure success, and who is accountable for maintaining everyone informed.

Step 5 - Operationalizing initiatives

“Where the rubber meets the road”

In this step you will implement the initiatives you prioritized in Step 4.  Suggestions of efforts to address first are those with the greatest impact on the people of your company, those related to Talent Management, hiring, promoting and retaining an engaged workforce.  

Sample activities for year 1 could be a review of the policies and procedures associated with interviewing, salary allocation, and performance reviews.

An evergreen process

The steps mentioned above are not all in strict sequence.  You may have several of them active at any given time.  The key is that there is clarity and transparency in every step of the process.  

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practices will bring your company many benefits, quantitative and from a human resource perspective.  What is most important is to remember the following proverb.

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”
African Proverb

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