What Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?
I have a riddle for you, what comes first, the diverse employee or an organization with a strong Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging culture? A simpler form to ask the same question would be what should come first, diversity or inclusion?
The Wrong Answer
Too many organizational leaders nowadays are all consumed with appearances, meeting metrics, goals, checking boxes, and seeming diverse. The desire to have a more diverse employee population has in some cases sent recruitment officers into frenzies. Quantum Workplaces Diversity and Inclusion report states, “One study shows that 96-98% of large companies have plans to invest in diversity initiatives. Despite that investment, 75% of employees in underrepresented groups don’t feel they’ve personally benefited from their companies’ diversity programs.”
75% of employees in underrepresented groups don’t feel the positive changes that are happening? It seems to say maybe these changes aren’t so positive after all. Don’t get me wrong; I am a huge proponent of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. But we can’t be dragging marginalized employees up through the ranks if the ranks aren’t ready for them.
Don’t be Fast and Furious
What do I mean by this? If your organization is new to the DEIB space like nearly every corporation in America, I guarantee you are desperately striving to increase your diversity profile. This often results in organizations frantically throwing together efforts to help create an inclusive culture. This is the wrong approach. Before you focus on diversity numbers, I urge you to look within your organization as it stands right now. Maybe you have marginalized groups. Perhaps you have toxic elements in your culture. Or maybe you have an entirely homogeneous C-suite. Just because you recognize areas for improvement does not mean you need to flood your open positions with the most diverse candidate pool you can muster.
On the contrary, you need to target each area for improvement one by one. Creating a truly welcoming and inclusive space within your organization is essential. Create the space you will be proud to usher diverse employees into. A space that gives you total confidence that they will have the opportunity to thrive under your roof.
It’s Not Their Responsibility
Moreover, it is entirely offensive to hire a diverse employee, check a box, onboard them, and let that person suffer through your flawed cultural systems. This simply continues the cycle of them becoming another victim to your exclusive culture. In a similar vein, don’t run to the few marginalized employees you have and put them in charge of all DEIB efforts. That’s like saying, “Hi, I’m aware I’ve neglected you and never sought to understand you properly since you joined our team, but now please heal us, so we don’t go on to wound more people like you.” Ouch! I guarantee anyone who has been stuck under the corporate boot and continues to stick does not want to be the solution. They are most likely not ready, willing or able to take responsibility for their organization’s shortcomings and divert their time and energy to fix the old system.
In other words, the old system birthed the flawed culture and probably has not made a positive impact on their life. It is not their responsibility to fix it. So how do you fix it? Well, you turn your focus to inclusion with the people you have on your team now and begin.
Creating your Inclusion Plan
First and foremost, you must, and I can’t stress this enough, determine the “why” behind your DEIB initiative. Gather your leadership team together and determine the foundational reasons that are motivating you to take this step. Be real here. Don’t just say what you know people want to hear. Tell the truth. If the core of your DEIB plan is a half-hearted desire to be a people-pleasing company and look good from a numbers perspective, then absolutely your plan will fail.
Through the self-reflection required to determine your why, your C-level execs will be more bought-in to the whole process of beginning a DEIB journey. Create your goals and strategize around those goals ensuring that every step of your plan brings you closer to success. Make sure to communicate these goals and your ‘why’ to the whole organization so that they understand why you are taking each step and what outcome you hope to achieve.
Stop and Listen
Once you know your “why”, you should take stock of your employees’ perspective of the whole initiative. You have to ask them for their thoughts and provide them the space to be vulnerable. This is the only way they will share their fears and desires. Ask your employees in one-on-ones, conduct listening sessions, host roundtables, administer surveys. Besides, you can’t ever listen too much.
Now that you have gathered a vast wealth of knowledge surrounding your DEIB initiative, you can begin the planning process. Now, it is key to make sure you are focusing on being inclusive and equitable before being diverse. Make sure your strategy incorporates how to retain people who belong to the marginalized groups in your workforce. You have listened to the people you already employ, so use their wisdom and experience to craft a better experience for the next person.
Next time you find yourself worrying over your diversity metrics and numbers, I urge you to pause, and look within your organization and listen to your people. Are you prepared to welcome diverse employees to a REAL inclusive environment?