Making swift progress to achieve greater diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is not a feel-good campaign—it’s hard, necessary work. I worry that some leaders consider DEI to be just another type of management fad, a Band-Aid, popular today but like most trends, one that won’t last. If I drag my feet long enough and/or throw some money at it in the form of a few initiatives, we’ll be all set until the next big thing rolls around, right?
Wrong! DEI isn’t about pursuing initiatives for the sake of appeasing stakeholders or appearing more virtuous to your customers. Becoming an inclusive organization doesn’t happen just because you say you are one or even because inclusivity is one of your core values. Inclusivity manifests when it becomes part of leaders’ and organizations’ entire approach to the way they run their businesses. In other words, it’s an outcome, not an initiative.
Positive outcomes in business aren’t usually accidental. They require intentional planning, investment, assessment and iteration over an extended timeframe. They require saying yes to some things and saying no to many others.
What does that look like? And how does an organization take the necessary steps to integrate DEI into its culture and everyday practices? It takes personal work and commitment from everyone on your leadership team. It requires similar efforts from the members of your board.
Doing the work requires integrating DEI as a way of both being and doing—think total head-to-toe body transformation, not just putting on a new outfit. DEI isn’t simply a Band-Aid that you pull out and apply whenever you learn about how another group of people has been marginalized.
Unconscious Bias Training
Hosting an unconscious bias training is a good step, training everyone in the organization to recognize implicit bias—their own and others. But unfortunately that’s where DEI work often ends—with this one step. Bias training is one of the most popular Band-Aids that we’re seeing applied to organizations right now.
Valuing diversity, equity and inclusion needs to become deeply embedded into every aspect of organizational consciousness. How the majority of people in the organization think, what they know or know how to do and how they behave are the signs we look for to tell us whether the organization is growing in its capacity to manifest equity and inclusion. And it takes time.
Develop Emotional Intelligence
Leaders especially, but also team members, must be on board and willing to become more self-aware and other-aware. Even when it feels uncomfortable, inconvenient or unnecessary. Like trying to make gains at the gym, awareness is a muscle that must be trained and worked, continually. Our biases show up at the ideological, institutional, interpersonal and intrapersonal level too. It’s the ocean we have been swimming in since we were born. Because of that, we see through the water and we don’t realize we also have to start looking at the water.
Make Hiring Unbiased
Hiring practices are very often unintentionally biased. Job postings emphasize educational attainment instead of actual skills or capabilities, which leads to talented people not bothering to apply. Application processes can present invisible barriers related to accessibility. We don’t train hiring managers to recognize and counter their own biases in interviews.
To start, the hiring process needs to be both race and gender-identity blind so people who make it through the initial screening do so because of their actual abilities, not optics. In addition, hiring managers should be looking for evidence in candidates for their ability to lead in multicultural settings and foster equity and inclusive practices among their teams. This is particularly true for leadership candidates.
It’s important that we recognize how current norms within most organizations in the United States are deeply rooted in white supremacy culture. They were designed intentionally, then reinforced over many generations primarily to benefit white, cisgendered, married, heterosexual males.
The three-part challenge for leaders today begins with acknowledging this reality, then processing our emotions around it. Emotions like defensiveness, anger, sadness, despair, vulnerability, etc. The final part is partnering with diverse stakeholders to co-create a new operating system and organizational consciousness.
Leaders and organizations who succeed in meeting this three part challenge will significantly boost their odds of thriving in a post-pandemic, highly VUCA world. It’s a paradigm shift of major proportions and it’s infinitely possible. Let’s ensure that DEI work isn’t a Band-Aid for work that needs to be deeper and longer-lasting.