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4 Steps Toward Diversity and Inclusion Organizations Can Take Now

By Leslie Fisher

As challenging as 2020 has been, the pandemic has allowed people to slow down and really take notice of what's going on around them. Since the events following the death of George Floyd last summer, it feels for the first time in my lifetime that more people than just people of color are seeing how systemic racism works. The public reaction, the fact that I see a multitude of people of all colors out there protesting gives me hope for change.

That, and my recent experience living in Australia for three years inspired me to pivot from marketing consultant to diversity and inclusion consultant.

The time is right to make progress on DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). The country is at an inflection point similar to what we experienced in the 1960s. Then as now, Black people were very much the targets of racism, oppression and violence. The country was fractured by the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam war, and the hippie movement. We had an upswell of protest, played out on national TV. We had in Lyndon B. Johnson a decisive president who was willing to set policy and push through new laws.

While those laws and policy changes helped to improve diversity in the workplace, decades later there still persists a wealth gap for Black and Brown people in particular, resulting from higher unemployment rates and less access to management positions.  There is clearly more work to be done.

We are again in a time of great division, discontent and protest which we see playing out on social media. But unlike the passive medium of TV, social media gives us the ability to have a conversation about DEI on a mass scale. There is a renewed appetite for change. So what can organizations do to actually make it happen? There are four main things:

1. Review your policies and practices.

Take a look at operational policies, employee handbooks, onboarding documentation, hiring and HR practices to make sure that they are inclusive. Organizations should make sure that what they’re directing people to do and say is first, legal, and second, welcoming to all. It’s also important to document and share your grievance or problem solving process. Having a plan in place gives us more space to be mindful if and when harrasment or discrimination occurs.

Beyond official policy, review external facing labels in your marketing and communications. For example, on response forms are the categories of information you’re requesting inclusive? Do non-binary people have options to select? Consider creating a diverse working group to participate in these reviews so you can see your organization through different lenses. If possible try to include people who are impacted even if they are outside the organization — for example clients or community members. This can help to inform your updates but also gain buy-in.

2. De-bias recruitment.

Have you noticed lately organizations are looking seriously at diversifying the workforce, in particular by adding Black and Latinx people? This has to be a very intentional effort. It’s not enough to say, we tried, but people just aren’t applying or there’s not enough qualified talent out there. Many open positions are filled through the networks of people who already work at the company, which may be limiting, as people tend to refer people who are similar to themselves.

Intentionally broadening your sourcing could mean not only looking outside of your networks, but outside the usual schools or prerequisites to find candidates who have similar skills and potential but haven’t gotten the same opportunities. This is where the ‘E’ in DEI comes in. It is not the same thing as Affirmative Action. Every organization wants to hire the best person for the job but the best person will never be from an underrepresented group if there is never adequate representation in the candidate pool to begin with. Equitable representation in the candidate pool gives everyone a chance at the job.

In addition to expanding your sourcing, remove barriers in your recruitment process. For example, present candidates without personally identifying information, at least on the initial pass. And, when recruiting for board seats, consider whether the requirement to be an investor is too restrictive. For non-profit board seats, dues or contribution requirements may be excluding people.

3. Engage everyone.

Once you achieve some diversity, set up ways for engagement to encourage everyone to have a voice and feel included. Allyship — building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups — is extremely important. This requires facilitation and training for people at all levels of the organization. One of the most powerful things to start with is anti-bias training, where we learn to be aware of snap judgements we make about people and how to counteract them. There are several ways to build allyship including mentorship programs, affinity groups, internships, and employee resource groups. The key here is to create authentic relationships because you want to get to know someone as opposed to ticking a box.

4. Create visibility.

There’s long been a kind of lip service paid to diversity. What's missing is visibility around what organizations are doing. Even when diverse people get in the door, they still aren’t making it into management or leadership. Companies may also avoid addressing disparities for specific groups by hiding results in aggregated Black/Brown, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) totals — which can be disproportionately made up of people of color from just one or two groups.

Collect information on factors you wish to improve: race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, etc., as well as questions about inclusion and awareness of DEI — always in compliance with privacy laws of course. This provides you with a better understanding of where your company stands with diversity and inclusion, and where you can improve. Set goals that create a critical mass for diversity at all levels of your organization. Make them a part of management goals and share your progress on your website.

What’s in it for organizations? A more productive and engaged workforce. According to research by McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19 percent higher revenues due to innovation.

But, I’ve also noticed in 2020 that statistics alone fail to convince, so let me make this personal.

For the longest time, I've been walking around feeling out of sorts with my own country. As an Army brat, I lived in Phoenix, AZ; El Paso, TX; Kempen, Germany, and Spring Lake, NC. I went to college at UNC Chapel Hill, and then lived in San Diego and San Francisco. No matter where I went, I didn’t see people like me represented in the leadership of my country, or in the companies where I worked.

With every move, there was a little culture shock and I’d have to adapt, in the ways that Army brats have to adapt, and then also in the ways that Black people have always had to adapt. It’s called code switching — talking and dressing a certain way, wearing your hair a certain way, behaving a certain way in the office or at school, in order to fit in, and to stay safe, but then you do something different when you're at home. It takes a lot of energy.

It wasn’t until I moved to Perth, Western Australia in 2017, to accompany my wife on a work assignment, that I felt I could let my guard down. I didn't feel the level of racism that I feel here in America. I think people thought we were exotic. And they love Americans.

Australia is not some racism-free paradise; had we been Aboriginal that would be a whole different story. But for the most part, I was able to experience what it was like to live in an environment where racism wasn't targeted at me.

I’ve always felt like I had to assimilate and to work harder just to be accepted. In Perth, people I volunteered with were interested in not just my opinion and expertise, but getting to know me as a person. I didn't feel like I had to fight to be heard, or to prove myself.

That’s an experience I want everyone to have, without having to leave the country. The way that this helps organizations is when people feel included, when they have a voice and feel like their efforts are appreciated, they give their best. You get greater productivity, and diversity of thought and ideas, and that enables the organization to go further.

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