One of the unexpected revelations of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the elevated concern for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Social issues always find their way into the cubicle, impacting relationships and the manner in which we conduct them. Working remotely minimizes some of the subtle microaggressions that find their way into workplace interactions, but as the return to the “new normal” pulls employees back into sanitized work environments, the return also brings a heightened awareness of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues that requires organizations to move beyond statements of commitment to actionable goals that achieve results through intentional cultural change. Organizations will be bale to achieve the end goal, in which the workplace mirrors the broad spectrum of DEI ideals, when they understand that their knee-jerk reaction to social concerns represents an opportunity to be thoughtful in shaping the events that will guide their efforts.
There is a familiar statement, primarily used in college basketball, in which an athlete is described as passing the “eye test.” This test consists of assessing talent, skills and athletic ability based on what is observable. While diversity statements of commitment are easily observed on the company website and within mission statements, a walk through any cubed workplace can make it difficult to believe those commitments. Going beyond the eye test is more difficult when DEI goals are woven into human resource duties and become part of an expanding plate of equally demanding activities. Achieving true inclusion in the new normal requires being thoughtful about which activities will move the process along and taking the T.I.M.E. to make sure they’re done correctly:
It’s no secret that most organizational successes start with the selection process. Since the biggest influencers on employee behavioral success are managers, it stands to reason that the selection of managers who understand the DEI mindset is a significant factor in achieving results. The process does not end with selecting good managers but with making sure they are trained in a set of skills that support the DEI initiative.
For example, organizations are asking managers to spend more time talking with their employees about the social issues that have triggered the revitalized diversity conversation. It’s not enough to say, “Go out and have a conversation” without having some format or set of questions designed to focus the conversation. The executive team, in conjunction with human resources and DEI leaders (and possibly outside consultation), should formulate a set of thoughtful questions designed to help managers have a meaningful and focused conversation about DEI-related topics and events. Empathy and listening skills, such as paraphrasing and asking open-ended questions, are still critical skills in the communication process. The DEI conversation requires that managers are more focused on the communication process and more mindful of the consequences of raising awareness without taking focused actions to provide solutions.
Anyone who has ever been frustrated by the shortcomings of a particular action knows that somewhere, the implementation process left something undone. While there can be many reasons why an activity fell by the wayside, a lack of resources is a consistent complaint. Like any initiative, DEI requires more than the work of a designated committee to make actions implementable. Successful action steps have an allotment of resources throughout the organization to support the bridge between statements and actions. A working budget, an active sponsor, a dedicated leader, an engaged team and informed employees ensure that DEI stays at the core of the organization’s values.
When actions are tied to a timeline and a productivity measure, it is easier to observe how DEI efforts are taking hold and changing the organizational landscape. Has the organization started to pass the eye test? Do managers know how to have DEI-related conversations with their employees? Has there been a decline in the number of racial, sexual and other complaints? Are other voices being heard? These questions are just a few examples of simple but effective ways of monitoring the impact of the DEI initiatives and will enable organizations to make adjustments and ensure their long-term success.
Any organizational initiative, whether idealized in nature or practical in outcome, is subject to some form of evaluation to determine its viability. Business organizations are linked to return on investment (ROI) expectations due to the nature of the relationships among stockholders, stakeholders and Wall Street and the volatile nature of investors. Written statements of DEI commitments can only be measured in their practical outcomes. Did the effort achieve the necessary results? Taking the time to evaluate the specified DEI goals against timelines, impact and results enables stakeholders to see the investment of resources as more than just “something we had to do.”
One of the lingering criticisms of DEI initiatives is that unless the organization lowers its standards, it cannot achieve equity and inclusion. Yet, according to a 2018 study by the Boston Consulting Group, “Companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity.” The ROI is clear, the need is obvious and the new normal dictates that there is room to be thoughtful in implementation.