It is 2018, and organizations have yet to master the art of creating diverse and inclusive work environments. While many have made strides in their efforts – as evident with the creation of employee resource groups, having dedicated thought managers leading the charge, and joining professional associations whose mission is to support the initiative – diversity and inclusion (D&I) still presents many challenges for the organizational leader.
Thought leader Verna Myers encourages us to think about diversity as an invitation to a party and inclusion as an invitation to dance at that party. However, many organizations are too focused on having parties where employees are wallflowers because they do not feel comfortable dancing – even at an event that they may have been highly sought after to attend.
The missing ingredient here is two-fold: First, the company must focus on playing a song that connects both the host and the guest, and second, the guests must be courageous enough to grab someone by the hand and dance without a prompt, regardless of how foolish they may appear in the eyes of bystanders. Herein lies the greatest opportunity for organizations and the people who make up their structure.
Playing the Appropriate Song
Most people view D&I as a compliance issue that surfaces when prompted by the media or by some form of corporate injustice within the walls of an organization. While issues like these should shift focus toward the subject of diversity, organizations might experience greater success if they were to take their employees on a never-ending D&I journey rather than creating a one-time training event for the sake of checking a box.
That journey might incorporate various learning strategies, including keynotes from external D&I champions, training appropriate to one’s career level, and a top-down approach of consistent interest and execution. The key to developing engaging content, however, is first to understand what’s important to those who are expected to dance. Most organizations fail because they create content that glorifies the company’s brand rather than focusing on real issues that affect the people within their walls.
As we learned with the recent H&M advertisement controversy, the case for diversity in decision-making processes is imperative to the success and sustainability of any organization. Having equitable representation of stakeholders in the early stages of D&I initiatives ensures that all voices are heard and considered to maximize buy-in. We learned from H&M that the practice of bias, including unconscious bias, must not go unchecked by those who are in a position of influence.
Encouraging Guests to Dance
When it comes to creating an organic inclusive environment, organizational leaders must create opportunities for employees to voice their perspectives about their real-life experiences. Regardless of the design of a diversity course or the incentive to complete it, the organization’s culture determines how willing an employee might be in opening up and sharing personal experiences that impact his or her work performance.
If organizations want authentic feedback and inclusivity to be the norm, it is imperative for them to hear what constituents want or need. Anonymous surveys and small focus group discussions with a trusted facilitator are great ways to solicit feedback that might not be otherwise shared in an open forum with large groups. Employees might view candid feedback as a risk and fail to share anything at all, while others may use the opportunity to rant about issues that are well beyond the organization’s control. For this reason, it’s also important that stakeholders of these initiatives set the stage for emotional intelligence to govern these discussions.
The late, great Whitney Houston was nominated for a Soul Train Music Award for best video of the year when she released a popular song called, “I Wanna to Dance with Somebody.” The lyrics “I wanna dance with somebody, with somebody who loves me” metaphorically speak to employees’ preference to work for organizations that genuinely care about the whole person. A global D&I initiative presents a great opportunity for any organization to dance its way to success.