In my role as a civil servant, my responsibility is developing and providing training to foster a culture where employees feel valued, inclusive, safe and confident. In this role, I often hear from vendors offering their services for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) challenges. I can’t begin to tell you how many times the vendors tell me amazing capabilities of their unconscious or implicit bias training. However, these vendors never mention or offer conscious bias training. In addition, when I search their company’s website, the leadership rarely looks like me … but that’s a topic for a different article.
In the policy paper “Inclusive Britain: government response to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities,” the U.K. government acknowledged the events of Summer 2020 that led many people to believe certain systems are flawed or actively rigged against them, whether it is in the workplace, education or the criminal justice system. For example, JP Morgan has paid restitution to employees to settle charges of racial discrimination and the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Black mortgage borrowers were charged higher interest rates than white borrowers and were denied mortgages that would have been approved for white applicants. Even further, research by RunRepeat on racial bias in soccer found that television commentators praised players with lighter skin tone as more intelligent, as being of higher quality and harder working than players with darker skin tone Conversely, the players with darker skin tones were significantly more likely to be reduced to their physical characteristics or athletic abilities — namely speed and power — than players with lighter skin tone players were.
From the perspective of gender, the Los Angeles Times documented CBS employees’ experiences with discrimination, inequity and retaliation as part of the company’s #MeToo investigations. In the public sector, both the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service have documented employees’ experiences of sexual harassment and retaliation.
After the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, organizations started to place more emphasis on providing DEI training and solutions. For all the time and money companies have invested in DEI efforts, especially since #MeToo and the social justice protests from 2020, organizations are still struggling with to combat challenges with racism and inequity. Research has found that a diverse and inclusive workforce leads to higher-quality work, better decision-making, greater team satisfaction and more equality; however, research also suggests anti-bias training, offered in isolation, does not work. It is safe to assume that training solely focused on becoming an anti-racist organization would meet the same unfortunate fate.
To make a course correction and deliver training that has impact is not that far out of reach for most organizations. In fact, the solutions are hiding in plain sight. Learning leaders should incorporate DEI training through the prisms of change management, emotional intelligence (EQ), communication and organizational values to deliver solutions that have impact.
DEI training should include the principles of organizational change. These principles include developing the “why, what and how” for DEI efforts. Industrial-organizational psychologist, Dr. Juliet Aiken, believes that DEI efforts should viewed as an organizational change initiative. For example, when you institute a diversity-based hiring process, it is an organizational change. Further, Valerie Jackson, the chief diversity officer for Zuora, says that the DEI change agent has to develop the case that the DEI “why” is aligned to the “why” that is important to business stakeholders. Jackson also believes that the implementation (the “what” and “how”) of DEI initiatives should be unique to the particular effort.
Solutions that worked in the past may not work now. For example, Mita Mallick, head of inclusion, equity and impact at Carta, writes that members of the Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community may be reluctant to return to work due to an increase in racism, xenophobia and hate crimes targeted specifically against them over the past couple of years. Successful DEI solutions developed prior to the past two years may not have the same impact now. Even further, it may be futile to conceptualize DEI solutions as one-size-fits-all because all races are not a monolith.
Emotional Intelligent Leaders
In the book “The Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Klaus Schwab suggests that organizations need to develop empowered customers and employees to meet their goals. The primary mitigating factor to empowering these two groups of stakeholders is having emotionally intelligent leaders. Emotionally intelligent leaders are self-aware and empathetic, and they understand people and the need to develop strong relationships. All of these qualities align to the development of a diverse and inclusive workforce. Steve Pemberton, chief human resource officer for Workhuman, believes that creating a culture where all employees feel connected to the community, can be seen for who they are and recognized consistently at the same value as others is critical. This connection will be hampered if leaders lack social awareness. Linking DEI strategies to EQ training, assessments and coaching will help develop leaders with ability to connect with employees and develop psychologically safe workspaces.
Employees know whether an organization’s core values are practiced or just espoused. And often times, an organization’s values will explicitly identify DEI or implicitly align to a DEI driver. For example, Adidas states that its values are performance, passion, diversity and integrity. Diversity is specifically identified as a value and the other three, when practiced, are mediators of a diverse and inclusive culture. But are those values practiced? Adidas’ Black and LGTBQ+ employees have spoken up about feeling marginalized and not included in the shoe company’s culture. After the backlash of referring to these employees’ claims as “noise,” Adidas’s human resources chief, Karen Parkin, resigned because she felt she could not “drive forward the pace of change to create a more diverse and inclusive Adidas that we can all be proud of.”
Designing DEI training based on core values provides a bridge to achieve DEI goals. Additionally, organizations can reward and recognize employees who embody these values and have a foundation with which to hold them accountable for doing so.
Nita Clarke, director of the Involvement and Participation Association, believes that employees feel that being listened to was the most important factor in determining how much they valued their organization. Building a “voice culture” is essential in building an organizational culture of trust. This is critical, as researchers Robin Ely and David Thomas recommend that DEI efforts focus on building trust.
Building a culture of trust and a “voice culture” in which employees feel psychologically safe will help employees feel empowered to share their DEI experiences. Additionally, communication training will prepare supervisors and leaders to build a “voice culture,” ask the right questions (in the right way), seek multiple perspectives and provide feedback, all of which are essential for a diverse and inclusive work environment.
As leaders grapple with The Great Resignation, the return to in-person work and other complex challenges, a more intentional focus on DEI training can start to deliver solutions so that all employees have a better chance of feeling valued, included, safe and confident in how they present themselves at work daily.