How an Organization Embraces Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Has a Lasting Impact

by Sachin Sama

Today, conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become so prominent that some may feel as if the topic has been around for ages. In truth, it has not.

The diversity conversation has up until recently been centered on gender and race. It now encompasses sexual orientation, gender, age, neurodiversity, differing abilities and other aspects of identity.

DEI concerns even extend to diversity of thought, reflecting the need to acknowledge and appreciate each individual and their unique personal and professional experiences. Being inclusive fosters creativity and innovation, especially when cross-team collaboration is encouraged to inspire and synergize different ways of approaching and tackling problems.

In short, DEI is good for people and good for what an organization is trying to achieve. But a culture of DEI does not just emerge from nowhere. It needs the right leadership behind it to ensure it takes root, thrives and is in place for future generations.

Which is to say creating and maintaining a culture of DEI is no simple task. Doing the job requires more than making a senior hire from outside the organization or grooming internal talent to assume leadership roles. So, at the highest level while working with client organizations, I like to structure the journey toward a culture of DEI into three steps.

3 Steps to Establishing a Culture of DEI

Understand and Appreciate Every Part of DEI

To address potential DEI shortcomings within their organization, leaders must first be able to define diversity, equity and inclusion in their own context. Defining the issues makes it possible to know how to approach them and foster the growth of DEI.

While diversity has historically focused on differences people can see, it also includes things like ability, experience and how individuals think. Equity relates to fair treatment when it comes to awarding merit-based promotions and ensuring equal access to opportunities through transparent dialogue.

Being an inclusive organization involves ensuring everyone has the opportunity to be part of the team.Doing that requires raising awareness of things like unconscious bias, which can unknowingly alter how someone perceives another individual or engages with them.

Hire for the Organization, Not the Individual

When interviewing candidates, hiring managers should think of how each candidate could impact the entire organization in the long term, not just for the here and now. Assessing this can be done by discussing what potential DEI initiatives, groups or teams a candidate has built or been a part of in the past. Especially for potential managers or executives, this is a good indicator of their potential to support, drive and perhaps lead something similar ­ which could even be the organization itself.

The reality is that if an interviewer is too hyper focused on the individual and whether the candidate simply ticks a box that classifies them as "diverse," the organization is looking for a shortcut to DEI instead of taking steps to correct a long-term problem with growing and sustaining a lasting culture of DEL Anyone who works in human resources or recruiting knows how important it is to be transparent about diverse talent and to present things accurately and truthfully.

Integrate Empathy and Understanding Into Organizational Structure

Whether it conducts listening sessions, sponsors team outings or offers formal training, an organization will only succeed in fostering DEI if its leaders identify and stick to a path that enables, empowers and encourages everyone to share their own experiences in a safe and constructive manner. The ability to communicate a commitment to ensuring such a work environment is critical to interviewing, onboarding and retaining employees. So, what programs and support mechanisms are in place that support this culture and environment?

For instance, hiring a diverse candidate accomplishes little if the person is not set up to succeed in their new role. It should be very clear what the organization is doing to help the new hire find their footing and grow as a professional. Integrating a mentoring or buddy system in which new employees are paired with allies or like-minded colleagues can be especially helpful in this regard. It definitely accomplishes more than a quick meeting with HR and being handed yet another pamphlet to "look at when you get the chance."

Impersonal onboarding is a potential red flag for a diverse candidate, so organizations need to be proactive and thoughtful about how and when they share information regarding workplace culture, rules and performance expectations. At a minimum, this needs to be a series of meaningful conversations.

DEI Is a Two-Way Street

Building an inclusive culture starts with the interviewing potential employees. Candidates should be expected to answer and ask questions about DEI, especially if they are being considered for manager or executive positions. Of course, this is all relative. The degree to which DEI is discussed will depend on the position and each candidate's level of comfort. But DEI should never be a nonissue.

There is no clear-cut way of knowing if someone will be the DEI leader that an organization needs, but there are some key things to look for. A track record is essential, but a new employee's past experience will not count for much if the hiring organization is not committed to improving its own performance. To put this

differently, if an organization is not doing a great job of embracing diversity for whatever reason, it is not doing itself any favors. At the very least, it could mean the organization is missing out on finding the future leaders it needs to ensure it is building and maintaining a lasting culture of DEI.

Without inclusive leaders who encourage everyone in the organization to embrace where they work, how they work and who they work with, hiring diverse talent is a short-term solution. That cycle will continue until a commitment to DEI is made. The reality is that organizations just need to be somewhere on their DEI journey. It does not matter if they are just starting, they just have to be on the journey.

This article was originally published in the October 2021 edition of HR News by IPMA-HR.

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