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DEI Efforts that Matter: How to Drive Real Change in Your Organization

COVID-19 inevitably uprooted the way our society works. Due to the pandemic, organizations have uncovered cracks in their foundations that shed light on long-standing social justice and equality issues. At many businesses, DEI efforts are now igniting discussions designed to drive real change.

After the events of the last year or so, corporate leaders – including HR professionals – are now prioritizing these initiatives in innovative ways. Those leaders are determined to build stronger foundations among what seems like crumbling – and unhealthy – precedent. However, this transformation sits in contrast to the alarming number of organizations that remain stagnant in an era screaming for change.

Corporate America Steps Up

Many major corporations are acting fast. For example, Netflix created the “Netflix Fund for Creative Equity.” This fund dedicates $100 million over the next five years to support organizations that connect underrepresented communities with jobs in the television and film industries. These efforts are much appreciated – and much needed. After all, according to Gartner, only 40% of employees believe their supervisors foster a workplace that is equitable and inclusive.

This chasm between workers seeking an environment with meaningful DE&I policies and leaders crafting and adopting such procedures underscores why organizations must make these changes. In particular, data shows:

  • Companies hire lack employees into entry-level roles, but representation figures sharply decline in upper management and senior positions.
  • In 2019, white men comprised 63% of C-level jobs while women of color only accounted for 4%.
  • Hispanic individuals are forecasted to represent one out of every two new workers entering the workforce by 2025. However, the Economic Policy Institute reported that they were “least likely to be able to work from home and most likely to have lost their job during the COVID-19 recession.”

The importance of DE&I in the workplace is simple: we must create fair, safe environments for all workers, from recruitment to retention.

As HR professionals, we are responsible for the well-being of our employees and the organization overall. This means, more than any other industry, HR is in the best possible position to enact real change.

DEI Efforts that Matter: Where to Start

Be realistic about the planning and execution of your DE&I efforts.

Integrating DE&I procedures won’t occur within a few hours or even a couple of weeks. After all, real change involves thoughtful, careful planning that will benefit your organization’s health and longevity. Notably, policies created without meaningful purpose can cause confusion and disarray within a company. In the end, those policies are not likely to be successfully applied in your office.

Another major factor in the planning and implementation of DEI efforts is the expansion of different voices at the table. When an organization has an abundance of experience, backgrounds and perspectives amid the development stages, it ensures a greater scope of representation and more thoughtful, creative solutions. Aside from providing a rich, inclusive corporate culture, a benefit of including many different perspectives is to ensure that a company does not overlook challenges one group faces versus another. Without understanding these individual hardships from the onset, your DE&I programming will not be as effective as it could be.

Lululemon, an athletic apparel company, is a strong example of this as it made many commitments to its DE&I efforts in 2020. In particular, one focused on increasing diverse representation among its employees. A vital element of this effort: Enabling an employee-led dialogue between underrepresented members and the senior leadership team.

Invest in the Day-to-Day

Workplace DE&I policies are ineffective if companies don’t invest in change focused on their employees’ day-to-day lives. While the bigger picture sets the stage for the overarching framework, you must delve into your colleagues’ daily routine. By understanding their “day in the life,” you will learn how your DE&I initiatives impact them. And you’ll come to know what improvements you must still make.

This engaging approach is imperative as the daily realities of the office – and the behaviors of those people in the office –  should mirror the overall DE&I vision. When you invoke this strategy, the workplace will reflect – on micro and macro levels – the results of successful DE&I efforts.

Examine Every Stage of the Employment Cycle

Companies should also ensure they implement their DE&I vision and strategy at each stage of the employment process. To aid in this effort, below are questions to consider when interviewing applicants. Also included: questions that enable connection with new, current and former employees.

  • Applicants: Who do you want to target during recruitment? How can your company scout prospective employees in a more inclusive manner?
  • New employees: During a team member’s onboarding, how will you educate them on DE&I policies and corporate culture? What level of education on the subject is currently in place, and – if need be – how could that be improved?
  • Current employees: Have you implemented diversity within your teams and projects to produce results that account for varying perspectives? Are opportunities for advancement fairly reachable to all employees? During interactive internal meetings and annual reviews, what questions will highlight issues or perceptions that may arise and affect your colleagues?
  • Former employees: During the exit interview process, how is your team handling the identification of trends and implementing professional actions?

Track Your Impact

To understand a plan’s efficacy, you must measure and report improvement and progress along the way. This part of the process is imperative. After all, if companies do not track their development, they will not be aware of areas that are working – and others that may need further support.

In addition to setting out a plan to track your goals, create an easily accessible dashboard that reports progress against the company vision. And based on the data gathered and reported, frequently analyze ways the organization can advance and modify your DE&I strategy.

Listen and Learn

There is no perfectly written handbook that explains the exact way your office should prepare and plan its DE&I policies. However, there is one constant: You must listen to your employees throughout the process.

Ignoring feedback from your colleagues will hamper your organization’s DEI efforts and, eventually, its path to success. As you check your progress throughout the year, make sure you establish a channel to receive a consistent cadence of feedback. For example, use survey tools and focus groups to better grasp how your employees perceive the company’s efforts and measure results. This crucial data will also help you pivot, if needed, and identify different ways the company can improve.

Don’t Stand Still, Evolve

Our society continues to experience profound change. So it is essential to revise and reshape the workplace appropriately – and in real-time.

As a workforce, we will continue to receive and provide education on how we can mold corporate practices to be more inclusive and available for many employees in the future. As a profession that thrives on those we serve perceiving us as understanding, we must continue to hear what others have to say. To quickly make changes that positively impact every employee, we must remain agile.

This is how we ensure our DEI efforts matter. This is you drive real change – in your organization and throughout society.

 

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How the Remote Work Era Impacts Your 2021 DEI Efforts

How will the remote work era impact your 2021 DEI efforts? How will you keep the promises made around diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Before remote work became so prevalent, it was possible to keep real-world events and conversations out of the workplace. Now that’s not only impossible; it’s also increasingly inadvisable. Events in your employees’ personal lives undoubtedly affect the workplace—not only on a personal performance level, but also on a company culture level. Add in ongoing issues of racial inequality and police brutality and the expectation is clear…

Companies must increase DEI efforts in 2021.

Whether employees are having discussions about racism or simply the challenges of living through the pandemic, personal conversations happen – and will continue to happen with increasing frequency. To make sure companies handle these conversations in a productive, positive manner, it’s essential to consider developing a DEI strategy alongside their corporate strategy. The inevitable result is culture-improving programs that promote and champion the business benefits and value of a diverse workforce.

The time is now to tangibly make good on the promises companies have made over the years to increase their focus on DEI.

Here are some actions I expect companies will begin to take in 2021 to fulfill these promises.

Revamp Hiring Practices

One of the first places companies will analyze to improve DEI in their workforce is their talent pool. But merely wanting to hire more diverse team members doesn’t mean you’ll receive diverse applicants.

To increase the diversity of their talent pools, companies will revisit their hiring practices. Providing training programs and resources for hiring teams and reviewing job descriptions to remove non-inclusive terminology and unnecessary requirements is a start. So is expanding from a primarily referral-based recruitment pipeline to a pipeline full of diverse recruiting events and job boards across the country. These are examples of the steps companies will take to be more accessible and welcoming to a diverse array of candidates.

After successful remote work experiments in 2020, I expect we’ll see many companies expand the number of remote roles available, enabling them to drastically expand their talent pool. Of course, the organizational culture will also need to evolve in order to retain a more diverse workforce.

Actively Provide Ongoing DEI Resources 

Instead of having one-off discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion in response to separate incidences, workplaces will begin making DEI discussions a part of their regular culture. For some, this will mean creating support and learning groups that provide safe spaces to talk about issues. The support methods might include facilitated discussions, anti-racist books, podcasts, articles, videos, and other materials.

Companies will also begin to create dedicated DEI teams to lead the strategy and implementation of all DEI initiatives. These dedicated teams will focus on diversity training, affinity groups, recruitment, promotion, external partnerships, supplier diversity, and more.

Deliberately Become Anti-racist Organizations

Even with a diverse workforce, a company can still have a racist culture. To prevent this, companies must create and enforce actionable anti-racist policies and practices. To show this is a high priority, a temporary shift in focus away from short-term revenue goals may be necessary.

From required training and programs addressing implicit bias, microaggressions, and more to dedicated employee taskforces, this step will require strategic engagement from leadership to get it right – and enact change from the top-down. Companies should also consider implementing Crossroad Ministry’s diversity training. This program provides detailed steps to help your company move from a monocultural organization to an anti-racist, multicultural organization.

Address DEI in their Products and Services

No workplace can be anti-racist if it doesn’t also extend its DEI efforts to the products and services it provides. Companies truly committed to undertaking DEI strategy will thoroughly assess how they plan and craft their products and services. Along the way, they must note DEI-related gaps and oversights that could help their offerings appeal to their target markets.

I’m Chief Inclusion Officer of an education technology company that serves more than 10 million students and educators. In my role, this aspect of inclusion is especially important to me. One of my primary duties is to ensure our products foster an inclusive and supportive learning environment for students of all races and backgrounds. While it’s an ongoing process, I’m proud to say we’re making a difference in students’ lives. We’re also helping our educator partners create an equitable learning experience for all of their students.

2020 brought about many challenges – and we’re all happy it’s over. But it also helped usher in some positive changes. I expect 2021 will begin to see those transformations more fully realized in the area of DEI. And I look forward to seeing the long-lasting changes companies implement as they become more inclusive, equitable workplaces.