Navigating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a priority for nearly every organization today. We want to dedicate time and energy towards creating greater opportunities and hosting a more diverse workforce, full of unique backgrounds and perspectives. We want to create a welcoming culture that helps everyone to feel like they belong and are a valued part of the team. However, achieving this is a complex process, and is often one that is attempting to rework an entire system. Before diving into the content, it is important to acknowledge that there is no one right way to approach DE&I. Coming in with a readiness to learn is a good place to start.
HOW TO ENTER THE CONVERSATION
So you want to talk about DE&I? Great! Before we start, let’s take some time to look inward. What are our current biases? Everyone has them, so it’s important that we acknowledge them. Determining where we have bias is a crucial part in joining the DE&I conversation as it forces us to acknowledge that we may have a tainted opinion about any given area or topic. This also gives us a good starting point for where we may need to work on ourselves. Do you have any racial biases? Let’s read up on where they may be stemming from, educate ourselves on the reality of the experience, and work to unlearn our biases. We will not be a productive member of the DE&I conversation if we do not first identify the areas in which we need to work through.
While considering your biases, let’s also consider our own background. How do we identify? How were we raised? What kind of exposure did we have growing up? These questions can help us to determine where we may have picked up any biases and help us to then work through those biases and unlearn our prejudice. It can also help us to identify what conversations we may want to be part of. Intersectionality plays a big role in DEI conversations, so identifying the minorities you are part of and may want to represent can be a helpful reflection.
With that said, we don’t know what we don’t know. There are so many different experiences out there and what you may have experienced may not be the same for someone else. Come in with humility and willingness to learn. Ask questions and avoid assumptions.
HOW TO STRUCTURE THE CONVERSATION
DE&I is such an important part of the employee experience. By ensuring a safe workplace that uplifts and empowers all your employees, you are creating an environment that allows your Team Members to feel confident and supported in all of their endeavors. That level of safety gives people a stronger sense of control over their experience, versus an environment that is not dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Because of the importance DE&I plays in autonomy and the employee experience, we wanted to share some best practices to have an open and productive conversation surrounding DE&I.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE CONVERSATION?
Before beginning your DE&I conversation, reflect on what you are trying to achieve. Do you want to have a better hiring process? Do you want to have a round table to exchange perspectives? Do you want to share resources and identify organizations/programs you want to work with? By identifying the purpose of the conversation and what you want to achieve by the end of it, you can have a better understanding of what rules and boundaries you should be setting. Additionally, identifying a purpose helps to create a specific standard of expectations and avoids disappointment or frustration from miscommunication.
ESTABLISH RULES AND BOUNDARIES.
Before beginning your DE&I conversations, it is important you establish any rules or boundaries surrounding the structure of your dialogue. Does everybody need to contribute to the conversation at least once? If you’re on Zoom, does everyone need to have their cameras on the whole time? If someone gets emotional during the conversation, how do we handle it? Establishing the rules and boundaries ahead of time can help to mitigate some potential conflict that comes from a discrepancy in expectations.
HAVE A CLOSING STRATEGY
When it comes time to close the conversation, have a strategy set in place to end the conversation on a note that keeps emotions in check and clears up any conflicting viewpoints. We want these conversations to be uplifting and productive, but with any DE&I conversation, there is likely to be an emotional aspect to it that can stick with people even after the discussion has closed. Because of this, it is important that we have a strategy in place that resolves the discussion and leaves everyone with a sense of direction. Does everyone have a resource that they will research? Is there a topic that everyone will consider for the next conversation? Are there any action steps for the team to take in between now and the next conversation? Having an action item can help your team to channel their energy and emotions toward something that they can feel good about. Without this sense of direction, individuals may take any unresolved emotions outside of the room and into their work. We want people to feel good about these conversations, but with an inherent emotional aspect to DE&I conversations, we need to have a plan in place for how we will address these moments and move forward.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives have become a core part of many organizations and has helped to create environments that are welcome to people of all different backgrounds. Celebrating and prioritizing these initiatives shows your employees that you care about them and are investing in their futures long-term. DE&I is ever-evolving, so our conversations surrounding DE&I are always evolving as well. Understanding how to make these conversations open, productive, and safe helps us to strengthen our Team Members’ sense of autonomy.
When considering DE&I, we must also include a conversation about intersectionality. Intersectionality is the idea that different social categories, such as race, gender, religion, class, age, disability, sexual orientation, and military background can be interconnected. With these intersections, a person’s experience with discrimination may be compounded, so it is important that we consider multiple domains and backgrounds. To ignore intersectionality, we may face some unintended negative consequences.
We all know that on average, men make more than women, even in the same positions. However, when we add the layer of race, women of color make even less. For example, it is estimated that white women will close the wage gap by 2059, but Black women will not close it until 2130, and Hispanic women will not close it until 2224.
When conducting internal reviews to check on any potential wage disparity, we cannot just look through one lens. Instead, we must look through multiple lenses and even stack those lenses to watch for any potential bias or discrimination.
HIGH TURNOVER RATES
Organizations who ignore the role that intersectionality plays in their DE&I efforts may find themselves with increased turnover rates. There could be several reasons for this, including higher rates of sexual harassment for Black women, higher rates of furlough for Black employees (especially women), and the weight of microaggressions against racially diverse employees.
With so many potential reasons for turnover, it is important that our change starts from the top-down. Send a message that resonates throughout your organization and create a space that uplifts and celebrates your DE&I initiatives. Participate in unconscious bias training, share the results of internal studies that are measuring diversity efforts, and continue to approach DE&I with humility and openness.
INEQUITABLE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES
Company A and Company B both have great diversity statistics. They are seeing a near 50/50 split in men and women and have been hiring more diverse candidates. However, Company A is seeing most of their employees who identify as a minority in the lower positions, whereas Company B is seeing diversity at all levels, including in their C-suite positions. Unfortunately, many organizations are more like Company A in that their diversity stays at the bottom positions of a hierarchy.
When considering professional development opportunities for your employees, think about how race and gender interact. Do you have anyone in a higher position who can connect with potential candidates? Could mentoring help in any scenarios? Does your team feel like they have a fair chance of being considered for training or learning opportunities? While you start to diversify your organization on all levels, emphasize equitable opportunities for your employees to grow and develop.
BE MINDFUL OF CURRENT EVENTS
There is a debate over how much your organization should acknowledge or recognize current events as they happen. When acts of discrimination and hatred occur on a scale that receives national attention, it may be worth sending a message to your organization. Condemning racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry makes it clear that there is no place for hatred in your organization. Reaffirming your organization’s commitment to DE&I emphasizes that you prioritize all of your employees and their experiences. You’re telling them that they belong and are a valued part of the team. Remind your team of the support resources available should anyone be particularly affected by the current events.
To ignore a monumental event can leave room for doubt. There is the quote from Richard Edelman, “To be silent, is to be complicit.” We cannot allow our employees to wonder if they are working for an organization that dismisses their experiences and may even actively be part of a group that oppresses them. A prompt response to current events can help your team to feel safe and valued in their work environment.
As you continue to learn and grow in your own DE&I journey, remember to keep an open mind and practice humility. We do not know what we do not know. In the next section, you will find a variety of resources that can serve as a starting point as you work to expand your perspective.