Last year, the globalization of the Black Lives Matter movement shone a much-needed spotlight on institutional racism, while Covid-19 simultaneously exacerbated the existing inequities in our society. Many businesses -- some of which had been deathly silent on diversity up until this point -- made public statements or posted black squares on social media in a supposed show of solidarity. While in some ways this was positive to see -- there's always room for more businesses to join in the conversation around racial inequity -- in many cases it rang hollow. This was particularly true for companies that made one-off statements on social media and did not take any further action.
Instead of being performative, businesses need to look within to consider how they might: a) attract a more diverse workforce, and b) nurture a culture of inclusivity. Only when you commit to doing both of these can you really address inequities in the workplace and drive better business performance as a result.
Here's how to start:
To be accountable means collecting the right diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) data and looking at it critically to truly understand the work that needs to be done. As business leaders, you must listen to your employees consistently to understand their perspectives and the actions they need you to take. When employees see these actions being taken, they feel heard. This is a much more powerful way to earn their trust than a hollow social-media post.
The best part about analyzing your DEI data is that you can't argue with it. You can only change it. And the best part about asking employees for feedback is getting to truly understand the perspective of everyone in your organization, so you know where you need to grow. Data allows businesses to identify their strengths, weaknesses, patterns of bias, and even the efficacy of the actions they are taking.
Give everyone the power to drive change.
While your employee data may suggest you have a diverse workforce, this must go hand-in-hand with an inclusive culture. Without inclusivity, you will continue to struggle to attract and retain top diverse talent.
One huge advantage of giving everyone (including new hires, middle management, and senior leadership) a way to provide regular, anonymous feedback is that everyone becomes empowered to contribute to the process and help make positive change. It's key that changes are embedded throughout the organization, at all levels. Don't forget about the "frozen middle" of mid-management. These people are crucial to your DEI strategy being adopted and successful. Engaging senior leadership alone isn't enough.
Efforts need to be ongoing too. If you start trying to guess how your people are feeling, or simply treat diversity as a box-checking exercise, your actions and statements will always come across as performative and inauthentic. And employees and customers alike will notice. To become inclusive at the core and reap the business benefits that come with that, you need to listen to everyone, empower management to take action, use these insights to create a data-driven DEI strategy, and repeat.
Hire with purpose and specificity.
In the latter half of 2020, some organizations tried to find quick ways to tackle diversity -- looking for solutions without really understanding the root of the problem. Businesses first need to acknowledge that bias has always been at play in the workforce; one token hire or single quarter of effort will not solve the issue.
Next, they need to become more deliberate and specific. When it comes to hiring, for example, businesses need to recognize that people from ethnic minorities are not a monolith. We need to be more specific about who exactly we're talking about. Are we talking broadly about people of color or are we talking specifically about Black representation? Is your job application process, therefore, biased? Think about what you need to do to attract and reach people from specific communities.
If you started with a single tweet, it's time to start listening.
Globally, we all have a responsibility to lead with meaning and purpose. We will all have to work tirelessly to create genuine change and rectify the lopsided nature of work and society. As leaders, we cannot ignore or avoid this issue any longer. We must tackle it head-on. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is the best thing for your business too. So start by holding yourself and your C-suite accountable. Listen deeply and regularly. Hire with purpose. And empower your employees to influence positive change by sharing their feedback. Everyone has a role to play in ending performative action.