As a multi-phase commitment, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a process that is dependent on the activities that define each phase and the steps that connect each phase into a seamless flow of measurable outcomes. The amount of time, use of resources and focused attention to the DEI process depends on the unique nature of the organization, thus allowing for the dissimilarity in the approach to implementation. This creative departure from a prescribed format supports the idea that it’s up to the organization to figure out how it wants to address DEI initiatives.

Just as a writer struggles to write the first sentence of a novel, leaders of new diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives often become bogged down with where to start the process. Conventional wisdom points to starting with a “statement of commitment” to DEI by the executive leader or leaders as a way of creating focused attention and infusing energy into the process. If these initiatives are acknowledged as part of an internal change process, then it stands to reason that a statement of commitment from the executive leaders of the organization qualifies as a value proposition that goes beyond a “nice-to-have” trend.

In one of an endless collection of amusing scenes from the hit series “The Office,” regional manager Michael Scott is suffering through some financial hardships and is told he will have to declare bankruptcy. He stands in front of his office mates and yells, “I declare bankruptcy!” Oscar, in accounting, then tells him, “Michael, you can’t just ‘declare’ bankruptcy, you have to do something.”

As a humorous anecdote, this scene has a serious connection to how DEI statements of commitment fall short of the mark. Moving from words to focused activities is a challenge that requires answers to several questions regarding the organization’s readiness:

1. Does the Mindset Align With the Statement of Commitment?

The executive leaders may be committed, but is the mindset of the organizational members consistent with where the leaders want to go? Unconscious resistance is a matter of how organizational members think, not just what they do.

2. Does the Talk Within the Organization Align With the Statement of Commitment?

Making an organizational change requires preparation. It is important to know what organizational members are saying about the DEI commitment. For example, are they describing it as a talent search or a quota fill?

3. Do Behaviors Align With the Statement of Commitment?

Organizational members can create the perception that they are on board by engaging in “perception-aligning” behavior that gives the appearance of commitment.

4. Do Departments’ Goals Align With the Statement of Commitment?

Functional departments are measured by productivity goals that are connected to the organizational vision and mission statements. In a situation of multiple priorities, departmental goals not connected to the statement of commitment become one more priority to ignore.

5. Do Levels of Accountability Align With the Statement of Commitment?

Just like any action that is designed to sustain the viability and survival of an organization, accountability is required of all divisions, departments and staff. A statement of commitment will remain an aspirational document as long as actions are not connected to the sustainability of the organization.

The statement of commitment is not a legally binding agreement, an indictment against the social order, a measured response to social justice or a mandate to “do the right thing.” Rather, it is an aspirational call for strategic actions to keep the organization viable in a globally competitive market. Thus, the process should involve identifying actions that move beyond words to behavior.

Strategic Action 1

Gather DEI information from known industry sources and, if possible, known industry competitors. Actions must be connected to a context of understanding. Before taking on the DEI challenge, organizational members need to know what is happening in the larger context (e.g., talent drain, losing the organization’s competitive edge). The best way to start is to look at the data and understand what it is saying to your organization.

Strategic Action 2

Create DEI initiative cross-functional teams to be the representative voice for organizational activities. Measure commitment by actions. When applied to organizational change, the visibility of the actions taken by recognized colleagues goes a long way toward demonstrating the strength of the commitment.

Strategic Action 3

Facilitate a collaboration between the human resources (HR), diversity and marketing teams to ensure that the good work done internally is also used as a lens for the external stakeholder community to see how the organization is addressing the issue. The consistency of the commitment often translates into “Best Places to Work” recognition and awards that broaden and elevate the community’s positive perception of the organization.

Strategic Action 4

Engage in an “internal self-learning” process that includes:

    • Internal surveys to assess diversity knowledge.
    • Representative panels to discuss perceptions and issues.
    • Facilitated departmental dialogue using a series of open-ended questions (no more than six) to discuss diversity and build commitment to actions.
    • Relevant TED talks, podcasts and webinars that can facilitate dialogue.
    • Diversity training modules with the specific purpose of raising awareness and creating a common understanding of and language around the organization’s diversity efforts.

As a point at which to start the process, actions that support the statement of commitment will, eventually, change the discussion from “It’s the right thing to do” to “It’s the best thing to do.”

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