Where DE&I falls flat (& how to make it work again)
Corporate diversity and inclusion is a neat and tidy package for an unwieldy, complex, messy web of challenges and opportunities. In fact the label DE&I (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) is so loosely used that it has come to mean anything even peripherally related to the diversity cause, making many of us question – has the term lost all meaning?
Yet in the past few months DE&I initiatives have returned with a much-needed vengeance. Questions of racial justice, unconscious bias, and political strife have taken over the national conversation – and the workplace is not immune. And so with the world sufficiently upended, we think this is the ideal moment to reimagine how we can best integrate our businesses into a changing society – both from a moral standpoint and a broader strategic perspective.
We don’t claim to have all the answers, and we advise you against trusting anyone who says they do. The entire role of “Director of/Chief Diversity & Inclusion” professional has only come to prominence in the past few years, and most everyone (even experts!) are still flying in the dark. That being said, thousands of companies across the country – ours included – are taking targeted action to make the workplace more equitable and rewarding for all.
If you’re looking for somewhere to start, we’re happy to share what we’re doing, what’s been going well, and what is posing the most serious challenges.
Step I: Devising a plan (with examples)
As we see it, any good plan – but especially a DE&I plan – requires three things:
- Buy-in from all levels of the company. This is one of those situations where neither top-down nor bottom-up leadership will suffice. Everyone must be invested in the success of your DE&I program, or else you risk causing a rift in your company.
- Purposeful organization. Once you get started, you’ll likely be overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that needs to be done. Focus on 1-2 topics to begin and organize your time strategically – especially since this is not your (nor most of your staff’s) full-time job.
- Continuous action and reaction. This is not a one-and-done project. Growth, learning, and adaptation must be on-going for the program to survive. This also means you don’t need to rush; this project will grow and change as your business matures.
Here at Proven, we applied these three tenets to help streamline our process and focus our efforts. While our approach won’t work for every company – you’ll need to tweak things to better suit your company culture, starting points, goals, etc. – this plan can still provide a strong framework and direction for any DE&I initiative.
To start, we adopted the divide and conquer model, something that only worked because we had such enthusiastic interest from so many of our employees. With ~30% of our people committed to donating their time and effort to the cause, we created four focus groups each with its own topic and goals. Since we started this project, each group has been meeting once weekly to tackle a specific set of challenges in our business, with 2-4 overarching objectives set for the quarter.
In the next section we’ll lay out our approach in more detail and highlight what we’ve been able to accomplish so far.
Group 1: Internal & external practices and policies
Before we turn our eyes outward upon the world, we thought it important to consider our own way of doing things. The purpose of this group is to evaluate our current approach to resolving workplace issues, hiring, and setting boundaries to ensure that we are always operating in accordance with our own values.
Focus areas: Overhauling our hiring practices to promote DE&I and revisiting our employee handbook
Group II: Metrics
Hard to measure progress without metrics, wouldn’t you say? That’s why we collected a group of our most data-driven employees to help us understand the state of DE&I within our company and devise strategies to better track these numbers going forward.
Focus areas: Benchmarking our data and tracking DE&I statistics
Group III: Education & Training, Communication & Community Support
This was initially two separate groups, but we found that these topics actually work best hand in hand because the same educational materials we use internally can be offered as resources to our network. The main aim of this group is to create space for internal growth (team bonding activities; lunch and learns; assets; surveys; etc.), which we then repurpose to uplift our community and spread education/awareness.
Focus areas: Planning internal trainings (“team building activities”), creating an internal DE&I survey to pinpoint areas of growth, partnering with community organizations, offering educational resources to the public
Group IV: Business Partnerships
Lastly, this group is dedicated to building relationships and partnerships within our business community to advance the cause of DE&I. Specifically, this group looks to learn from our partners, to help expand our DE&I efforts, and to surface potential areas for collaboration.
Focus areas: Taking a critical look at our vendors/where we spend our money and creating a collection of minority-owned businesses to better support such partnerships
It’s not a perfect process, but this has been our initial approach to tackling the biggest issues facing the workplace (and world!) today. So far we’ve actually managed some early wins, including a 95% completion rate on our internal DE&I survey (find template here!) and a series of Friday TED talks on issues of social justice. Not to mention the meaningful conversations that have been sparked across the company as we delve into these topics and learn more about one another.
After ~3 months of developing our DE&I plans and committing to the process, we would offer three simple takeaways:
- Conduct an internal DE&I survey (again, you can find the template here)
- Establish a baseline against which you can measure progress (the DE&I survey helps!)
- Take your time and don’t spread yourself too thin, you’re in for the long haul
And if you have the funds, we highly recommend leveraging the skills of a DE&I consultant to help guide your process and focus your efforts.
One last thing – as a first step, many companies have opted to draft a ‘diversity statement’ to be appended to their website, listed in their email signatures, and even showcased on the company’s walls (remember when we had real offices with real walls?). While this is a critical step in laying the foundation for any DE&I program, a statement cannot stand on its own. Actions speak louder than words, and while your words are definitely important, they won’t enact change in absence of follow-through. So yes – gather your staff, draft your diversity statement, and start sharing it internally and externally. That’s an excellent place to start. But unless your statement is followed by real changes, such a statement will ring hollow – and may even serve to demoralize your staff or convince them that you are not genuine in your commitments.
We’ll be kicking off a series of DE&I articles – from how to tailor a program to your company’s needs, to re-envisioning your hiring process and measuring benchmarks – based on our own projects, challenges, and experiments at Proven. There’s a lot of ground to cover and nowhere to go but up. We hope you’ll join us on this adventure – until next time!
And if you have any suggestions, comments, questions, requests for info – feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.