24 Feb Upholding the DEI Promise in 2022
A new year means new year’s resolutions, even for businesses! If your business is still deciding on a promise to uphold, consider a commitment to creating and sustaining a more inclusive, equitable and diverse culture. We expect businesses to be doubling down on their DEI initiatives and upholding their promises to doing better. And, there is a lot of room for improvement. Fortune 500 companies boast about their DEI efforts, while only a mere 1% of the CEOs are African American. Sadly, it’s is very common for businesses’ DEI efforts to fall flat. In 2022, expect companies that don’t make a sustained effort to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive will be negatively recognized as society is holding businesses to a higher standard.
Companies that don’t make a sustained effort to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive will be negatively recognized as society is holding businesses to a higher standard.
Since the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020, businesses have taken interest in incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion within their companies. These efforts can only be successful when the company’s employees truly understand the many potential benefits, and genuinely want to see their DEI strategy succeed for reasons other than bragging rights. It’s up to company leaders to model inclusive behaviors and really show that DEI efforts are not perfunctory but part of a lasting commitment to change.
DEI should become a part of a company’s culture, as opposed to a forced, one-off program.
DEI should become a part of a company’s culture, as opposed to a forced, one-off program. The recent lawsuit filed by Brian Flores against the NFL is the perfect example of a forced, surface-level DEI initiative having no actual impact. Flores claims he was interviewed solely to satisfy the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires that teams interview at least one minority from outside the organization for open positions. Sure this may seem like a solid idea, but when there is not a genuine interest driving the strategy, it’s usually just an act. At the end of the day, no matter what affirmative action laws or Rooney Rules you have, if you don’t believe in the importance of having a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace, then your actions won’t drive change. Even worse, your perfunctory acts will be seen as such and will do more damage to your organization. Don’t act based on the pressure or need to, but because you genuinely want to.
So what can you do to uphold your promise?
- Set Goals: DEI initiatives should be clear within each aspect of a business, rather than some abstract, undefinable (and therefore unattainable) goal. Set goals you believe in and establish tactics to accomplish them. My old boss used to say “what gets measured gets done” and that is no less true for metrics and measures around DEI. What is also important is sharing those goals and metrics and being transparent about progress – or lack thereof. Think big but start small and build on your successes.
- Think Inclusively: When we think inclusively, it supports a diverse population as well as engages executives to enhance accountability and ownership throughout the team. Inclusive thinking also permits us to accept, acknowledge, and embrace the different values, life experiences, skills and identities that employees within the company hold. Beyond that, leveraging the diversity on the team will be most effective when the leader is appreciative of everyone’s perspectives and doesn’t believe that their approach is the only correct way to handle situations. Setting the tone for curious listening and managing one’s “talkometer” is a great way to model inclusivity both in person and virtually.
- Build Psychological Safety: Leaders should create the foundation for an inclusive company culture by building psychological safety on their teams. People managers can begin by connecting with employees on a personal, human level to create mutual respect among the team. The sense of comfort and respect will lead to transparent, open communication. Leaders should show assurance in their employees’ abilities and opinions, encourage risk taking and be supportive of mistakes, all of which motivates team members to build their confidence. Confidence leads to innovation and increased support of colleagues. Knowing that everyone is granted an opportunity to be heard and included transforms the office/meetings into a safe space that is exciting to attend. Showing interest in others’ ideas leads to team-building and trust among coworkers as well as teams and their leaders. This in turn will benefit the entire company by increasing revenue, attracting talent, and having employees deliver their best work.
- Be Transparent: This is probably one of the hardest areas for leaders. How much is too much? Is too much vulnerability a sign of weakness? Authenticity is key and employees want (and expect) their leaders to tell them the truth. Share your own learning and growth in the journey to build a diverse, more inclusive and equitable organization and to be a more open leader. Share the data, the ups and downs with the team. Most likely they know it anyway, and telling them otherwise is insulting and erodes trust.
When it comes to upholding the DEI promise, it’s about the greater good. Sure, it increases operating revenue and makes investors more interested, but if those are the only reasons you’re trying to boost your inclusivity then you’re bound to fall short. Think about the way that Olympic athlete Brittany Bowe gave up her spot on the USA team so that Erin Jackson could step in. Bowe did this because she believed Jackson, a four-time World Champion who had a bad day at the trials and missed qualifying, stood a better shot at winning a medal for the U.S. Bowe is the perfect role model for what DEI is all about: thinking beyond yourself and on behalf of the whole.
The more focus leaders put on building diverse and inclusive organizations, the more it will be normalized in each aspect of life and within companies big and small. So think, what can you do to incorporate DEI into your business in a way that will be attainable, consistent, and inspiring for everyone?
What can you do to incorporate DEI into your business in a way that will be attainable, consistent, and inspiring for everyone?
Shaara Roman is founder and CEO of The Silverene Group, a culture consultancy that helps companies align their people programs with business goals.