It’s been more than a year since many companies made commitments to social justice and organizational change. Reflecting on what has transpired and what change has actually taken place has many of those companies at an inflection point.
Organizational leaders and individuals demanding change acknowledge that “checking the box” is not enough for real diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIB). Corporate social media posts about “standing in solidarity” or corporate-wide human resources letters that talk about “doing the hard work” or “doing better” are perfunctory and send a loud message that building equitable workplaces is not an imperative or a priority.
Organizations that want to go beyond the transactional must make actual structural and behavioral changes at every level of a business. What’s more, they must recognize and accept that all employees have a role to play in making change, not just the one person or team leading DIB.
To this end, early DIB practitioners and diversity champions should implement the three Ds—demystifying, deconstructing, and disrupting—as we all continue to evolve in the DIB space.
DIB can be an ambiguous concept for some, and there is room for many interpretations based on one’s own perception and experiences. Oftentimes, the terms diversity, inclusion, and belonging are used interchangeably, which is why it’s important to dispel myths around them.
To this end, defining what DIB means to an organization and what it looks like in action are key steps in developing the competencies to guide leaders on inclusive behaviors. Defining what DIB means also provides both individual responsibility and organizational accountability.
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Being concise about what DIB is and why it matters is also an essential step. Even further, there is the question of how you can support the internalization of DIB. Removing the ambiguity around DIB and defining what it actually means provides individuals an opportunity to find common ground and collectively move toward the same understanding. It is an enormous task, and is also why prioritizing DIB roles—and recognizing how those values impact every person in a company—is vital.
Once early DIB practitioners and diversity champions demystify what DIB means to their organizations, they can begin to engage senior leaders and middle management in cascading communications. For many companies, there can be a disconnect between a statement and the commitment of resources necessary to achieve that change. Some spaces to begin to bring these concepts to life are in “roadshows” and team meetings. Early DIB practitioners and diversity champions can take action and explicitly call out how these concepts fit into the company’s values and mission, embed them into the onboarding process, and integrate them into executive coaching.
It’s critical to recognize that barriers and biases exist in policies, processes, and organizational structures, even down to the tech algorithms companies use for recruiting and promoting. By identifying and deconstructing these barriers and biases, early DIB practitioners and diversity champions have an opportunity to assess all of the subsystems within an organization and identify opportunities to reengineer them with equitable practices.
As this work evolves, the journey will become much more intricate and will require a paradigm shift. Diversity champions must assess the current climate of their companies and identify the challenges of changing processes and subsystems. In other words, they must avoid taking a Band-Aid approach and simply making a checklist, because DIB work is not a checklist.
Most companies, for example, are only scratching the surface by just offering unconscious bias training. This is considered the infancy stage of the journey to self-awareness. Instead, organizations should begin their journeys by examining their hiring process. They are bound to find fundamental gaps. Organizations should also examine their performance reviews and ratings systems. Chances are, not all are being measured by the same measuring stick.
Contrary to popular belief, disruption is not exclusive to start-ups and entrepreneurs. It involves digging deeper into the cultural transformation of an organization and focusing on a multifaceted approach that includes training, micro-learnings, and coaching—all of which will help create a safe space for employees to disrupt the status quo.
This step can be especially difficult. The only constant in life is change, and behavioral science tells us that people have a fundamental reluctance to change. However, managing change is an essential component of the larger strategy to reach increased levels of adaptability. Most business problems are people problems, and disruption done intentionally can mobilize employees toward a common goal and vision.
By positioning middle management to be change agents, companies will build a sense of cohesion around the disruption and transform their cultures. Senior leadership, which is often the most homogenous group, must be included in this effort. Overall, this structural overhaul must be grounded in compassion and empathy and cultural competencies that need to be further strengthened with managers.
From Inaction to Action
It’s one thing for a company to make a statement to staff and the external public for image and brand management purposes. It’s another to put the resources and time into building strong DIB programs—which is why holding leaders and people managers accountable is a must.
Diversity champions must harness the inherent drive they have for connection and collaboration and prove that this drive can be stronger than one’s biases. Additionally, companies must cultivate and empower internal leaders in talent acquisition and talent management departments who can serve as DIB ambassadors—leaders who can become storytellers and advocates of the 3Ds, who can foster peer mentoring networks that are diverse and intersectional, and who can refrain from simply relying on employees of color to do the hard work of lifting the entire group or organization.
By creating smaller communities of practice around DIB, companies will be able to help employees bridge the DIB divide and become champions for change.
Jennifer Vasquez is a multifaceted, bilingual executive cultivating partnerships with academia, government, and industry leaders and advising on DEI strategies and cultural change. She has more than thirteen years of hands-on experience in strategic planning, DEI, change management, organizational agility, partnership development, revenue generation, project management, marketing communications, and corporate social responsibility.
Vasquez holds dual bachelor’s and dual master’s degrees in international development and Latin American and Caribbean studies, as well as an MBA. She has been appointed to various commissions by the mayors of Miami; Washington, DC; and Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter.