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Creating Meaningful and Genuine Progress on DEI

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

As the world celebrated King’s birthday this week, I felt it important to reflect on his many accomplishments and profound challenges as a leader. Organizations are faced with the complex and ambiguous challenge of how to empower, inspire and sustain action that leads to a more inclusive future for their employees. Leaders continue to face societal, political, and economic challenges, so it is critical that efforts around inclusion don’t take a back seat in their overall strategy. If we think about past crises and how we’ve recovered, inclusivity was a key component in organizations bouncing back and even thriving as a result.

Companies have demonstrated that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are top of mind, and I think we’ve made some decent progress; however, the progress has been slow. I feel like people who have a role in leadership, whether formal or informal, are not always equipped to deal with the kind of diversity of the workforce that we now have. And we need to improve on it, because it’s not declining - it’s increasing, and will continue to do so. Some leadership teams have recognized the importance of, and urgency behind, having increased conversations and taking action to make sustainable progress on DEI. But what defines “progress”, and can we track and quantify our results?

Some simple steps that I’ve recommended around ensuring the success of an organization’s DEI strategy are:

  • Identify the problem areas by obtaining input from a group, or groups, of employees (focus groups, surveys, etc.), then prioritize which of those areas you consider critical.

  • Outline your definition of success clearly and set specific, quantifiable goals, then gain stakeholder support. It’s important to communicate your case for change—the rationale for why your company is focusing on the effort and how it ties to the company’s values and mission.

  • Once you have stakeholder approval, ensure they are equipped to model and lead these desired changes (provide communications, timelines, training activities, etc.). Follow through is such a critical component here, so hold senior leadership accountable for tangible outcomes.

  • Identify key processes within your organization and how you may be able to integrate these changes. This is a great opportunity to encourage employees to contribute to this key initiative. Providing employees with the knowledge and skills to support these efforts increases engagement and reinforces their voices are being heard.

  • List your KPIs and track each status thoroughly; seek out employee feedback throughout the year and course correct as needed.

While this is a sensitive topic, it’s best to keep things simple and to not overcomplicate your strategy. There are very simple ways to drive progress on DEI, and you do not need to be a senior leader to get involved and make meaningful, genuine changes in your organization.

  • Seek out perspectives that you consider different from your own to challenge your viewpoints.

  • Educate yourself on the cultures of other people and compare to your own culture

  • If you are a people manager, ask for feedback on whether they feel you are an inclusive leader, then reflect on how you can improve in this area. Make sure these check-ins are consistent to help you best understand how to continue to support and understand your employees. Active listening is hugely important – ask open-ended questions to help you better understand what your employee may be experiencing.

  • Educate yourself on the use of inclusive language. There are many tools available to help guide you on using neutral alternatives to biased language in your professional communications.

  • Get to know your employees at a personal level and encourage them to share their needs in the working environment.

  • Give credit to an employee or team when a new idea is being introduced to help support your DEI strategy.

  • All employees have an opportunity to role model inclusive behaviors. Set the tone by showing gratitude and engage further when a colleague challenges your thinking; encourage a learning mindset that allows mistakes to be made.

No matter what, we all play a part in identifying and remedying inequity. We’re all better served by working together to listen, understand, and improve ourselves and our places of work, but we must have the courage and patience to build a solid foundation for building an effective DEI strategy.


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