You watch the news. You follow trends. You’ve been hearing a lot about how diversity enhances performance, makes it easier to attract and retain top talent, and benefits your organization. You serve a diverse customer population and need a wide range of people and skills to meet customer demands.
How would you grade yourself and your organization on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)? More importantly, how would your customers and employees rate you? Whether you realize it or not, customers want to know what you are doing in terms of DEI. Employees expect substantive action.
There are many options available, yet the thought of launching a DEI initiative paralyzes some people. Just where do you start?
Here are a few tips to begin this important work:
- Make the business case. DEI efforts need leadership support. To get that support, start with data. A 2x2 matrix with gender/ethnicity on one side and leadership/non-leadership on top may be all you need. Populate the matrix with headcount numbers. What story does this tell? Corporations across the U.S. have made slow progress in advancing women and people of color into leadership roles. LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company in their annual study reported that C-suite membership as of 2020 was 21 percent female and 15 percent people of color. That’s progress, but is it enough? Is it okay if less than 5 percent of your leadership team is female? Do your leaders feel that no people of color in senior management is acceptable? Have a conversation at the top to address the issues and talk about solutions to move forward.
- Recognize opportunities for everyone. DEI initiatives do not mean that white males can’t move up. Organizations should always select the best candidate for a position. If you don’t cast the net widely and don’t make diversity a priority, you will continue to hire people who look, think, and act like you. Recognize the benefits to your organization when opportunities are created for talented people regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or age. Hire and develop talent in ways that demonstrate your commitment to creating opportunities for everyone.
- Engage employees.When senior leadership is largely white and male, even the most perceptive executive is likely to underestimate the hurdles that diverse employees face in their daily work lives. Whether you realize it or not, your employees want to know what the organization is doing to support diversity. Perhaps more importantly, they want to feel included and part of the solution. You can have an incredibly diverse workforce, but if there is no inclusion, you will lose talent. You need that talent pipeline to grow diversity in your organization. Clear communication is key. Share the business case and ask for employees’ thoughts on how to move forward. Beyond just asking, act upon those thoughts, and implement policies and practices based on them.
- Encourage diversity of thought. Even in homogenous organizations, people are different. They bring unique ways of thinking, personal interests, and distinctive life experiences to their work. By encouraging diversity of thought and supporting those who get things done differently than the rest, you can create a stronger foundation for DEI programs to flourish.
Most importantly, discussing these issues isn’t enough. It’s time to stop talking and start acting. Take tangible steps to bring your DEI program to life by attending the June 21-23 Workplace Equity & Equality “collaboratory,” an innovative approach to sharing ideas and taking tangible steps. You’ll have the opportunity to roll up your sleeves and dig into challenges with colleagues who are similarly situated to you and those who are further along the path. Together we will create and innovate to get your DEI efforts underway.
Phyllis H. Sarkaria is founder and CEO of The Sarkaria Group, a leadership coaching and management consulting firm that helps successful people make sustained improvement in effectiveness. She serves on the faculty of Workplace Equity & Equality (WEE), an organization that seeks to create workplace equality in a “no shame, no blame” sustainable environment.