Embedding Diversity into your Personal and Professional Values
By now, you’ve probably read all the research that celebrates Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs (DEI) as ways to spur more innovation and business growth. More diverse companies continuously outperform their more homogenous peers. However, you’re likely also familiar with the studies showing that an effective DEI program that creates systemic change is hard to find. While there are many reasons for this - say, lack of investment or expert intervention - it’s true that employees take their cues from the top. If leadership gives the impression that they find DEI tedious or nothing more than a “check-the-box” exercise of the everyday workplace culture, employees will believe that as well.
Consider the importance of demonstrating your commitment to DEI efforts. Fundamentally, expressing serious interest in improving workplace inclusion is an act of care. It shows your subordinates that you are invested in their well-being as much as you’re invested in their labor. Every day, marginalized communities show up to work in spaces that appear to them to be inhospitable to their identity and they begin to feel the burden of repeated racial trauma that often mimics post-traumatic stress. Enduring such stress is compounded when leadership acts indifferent towards the ways they can be harmed at work.
The first step in creating a more inclusive company is for leaders to self-reflect on their views, actions and their personal commitment to diversity and inclusion. Leadership is often ill-equipped to connect and relate to employees of color who more often than not, feel the cultural pressure to assimilate instead of the freedom to exist authentically. This is increased by the lack of positive interactions with their bosses and other company leaders who fail to help foster a sense of belonging.
The second step is to equip leadership of the organization with the knowledge, skills and ability to sustain diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This may require diversity initiatives that recruit professionals to coach, train, and help create and execute DEI efforts. Such professionals may be outside consultants who help coach and train current staff to assume future DEI leadership roles or the hiring of a full-time Chief Diversity Officer to build and execute the DEI strategy. When leadership not only selects a professional DEI leader but also places that leader in a position of authority and accountability, the importance of DEI becomes clear. It demonstrates to staff that having a diverse and inclusive organization is something the leader takes seriously, and as something worth the investment. The third step recognizes the importance of resources. In addition to identifying someone responsible for DEI, leaders must commit to a long-term investment in financial support and other resources. Successful DEI programs do not occur suddenly, but will undergo changes and will influence the workplace culture over time. Leadership must be willing to budget for the resources that will be needed to meet this long-term effort. Finally, leaders must demonstrate through personal messaging, offering support to internal champions of diversity and by developing diversity into all elements of the organization’s strategic planning that DEI will remain a “constant” within the organization regardless of how long it takes. Remember, the values you hold as a leader cannot just be stated - they must be demonstrated in the actions YOU take and the things YOU do.
Pause and self-reflect…. What do your actions tell others about your commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace?