Creating a Landscape for DEI

Over the last year, many of us have fielded more calls from HR professionals and business leaders wrestling with the challenges of creating a diverse workforce than ever before. Not only is there significant pressure from outside our organizations to address issues of diversity, but there is also increasing pressure from within our organizations as well. In speaking with these well-meaning professionals, the common theme is uncertainty and confusion because diversity, equity, and inclusion issues are complex. While we know a lot, we just do not know what we might be missing. In fact, a recent assessment completed by more than 3,500 HR professionals showed that of 20 broad categories, the category with the lowest level of proficiency is DEI. Only 3% of respondents claimed to have deep expertise, and four in five HR professionals rate themselves as beginners in DEI. In my conversations, my goal is always to help them step back, take a breath, and approach the subject from a new perspective.

 Simplify DEI

Let’s take a quick moment to recap diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in simple terms. First, diversity is difference or variety. For almost every human trait, there is variety. No two people are exactly alike, even if they are “identical” twins. Difference is a fact. What we choose to do with and about that fact is a choice. We can choose to deny it, avoid it, embrace it, or celebrate it. Whatever we choose, it is not going away. It simply is.

Equity, plainly put, is the act or process of making sure that everyone has what they need to be successful. It is not equality because equality means treating everyone the same. Equity means treating people based on what they need.

Inclusion is all about creating an environment where everyone can feel a sense of belonging, value, and acceptance. It does not mean everyone agrees about everything all the time. It does mean that even when we don’t agree, we are still together.

 A Conversation about Perspective

When I think of the work of DEI, my perspective may be a little different than others. I have an affinity for analogies, so I thought I would share one here. Now, I am by no means a gardener, but I enjoy the beauty of a well-designed and maintained garden. When a garden boasts a wide variety of flowers, vegetables, fruit, and greenery, it’s a boon to the area’s ecology. It provides beauty for the eyes, fragrance for the senses, food for the ecosystem, and the list goes on and on. How does this happen, and what does it have to do with DEI?

To have the desired end result, the gardener will first make sure that there is good soil within which to plant. My gardening friends have reinforced to me that the gardener prepares the soil, not dirt!  And there is a difference. Soil is alive and made up of living organisms like worms, insects, bacteria, fungi; it is a complete and self-sustaining ecosystem. Dirt, on the other hand, is dead and is made up of sand, silt, and clay. This, to me, sounds like inclusion. When we have a work culture that values and affirms everyone within the organization, it manifests as a healthy, living, breathing organization that provides a great foundation for growing a dynamic and thriving workforce. Inclusion is not a one-and-done event. It must be intentional and aligned with every HR function and process.

After the soil is prepared and the gardener believes it is time to begin planting, they want to make certain that the supplies needed to support the various types of plants are available. To thrive, each plant has different needs. An evaluation of the sun’s path tells us that each plant is planted where it gets the right amount of sunlight. Fertilizer and plant food for each plant and water according to the needs of the species is critical. This is equity. Not every plant needs the same degree of sun, water, and food. The same is true for people. Equity requires that we ensure that systems processes, policies, and programs are impartial and that the organization appropriately addresses bias and eliminates any barriers that prevent full participation. This is not a one-and-done event. Assuring equity is an ongoing process.

In this environment, the gardener has an appealing foundation within which to invite a variety of living, growing plants. Whether flower, vegetable, or greenery, annual or perennial, the environment to which we invite them will determine their longevity and ability to flourish. This is diversity. Once an organization creates an inclusive culture, people from all sorts of backgrounds will be attracted to the organization, and efforts to recruit a diverse workforce will be successful. So, diversity because of inclusion and equity, not the driver of it, can thrive.

Select a Starting Point – Inclusion

Without an inclusive workplace, diversity efforts are likely to fail. In addition, studies have shown that where DEI is treated as a core business function, rather than a side of the desk HR initiative, success is greater. According to a recent Fast Company article, “… we can effectively say that companies are doing diversity wrong all over again. The vast majority of the DEI roles posted have little to no connection to strategic planning, are far removed from the C-suite or senior leadership, and are still nestled in quiet corners of HR.”

A truly inclusive workplace begins with leadership. While it is critical to hold leaders accountable for creating an inclusive environment, they must acquire the skills necessary to weave inclusion into the way they operate. According to the Harvard Business Review, there are six signature traits of inclusive leaders:

  • Commitment: Leaders not only articulate a commitment to inclusion and diversity, but they also hold others accountable and make it a personal priority.
  • Humility: They admit mistakes, share credit, and allow others to contribute.
  • Bias Aware: They are aware of their own biases, and where bias exists within organizational systems, they work hard to ensure it is irradicated.
  • Curiosity: They have an open mind, seek to learn about others without judging, and empathetically seek to understand them.
  • Cultural Intelligence: Considerate of others’ cultures
  • Collaborative: Focus on diversity of thinking and psychological safety

Starting the work of DEI with Inclusion is approaching it from a different perspective. As with any significant culture shift, this work relies on leaders leading the way.

If you would like support in beginning the journey to creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace, Employers Council can help. Utilizing effective 360 – degree assessment instruments, leaders can identify areas they need or develop to become more inclusive leaders. One-on-one leadership coaching is an effective way to support leaders in this transition. Employers Council can help you navigate this; give us a call.