As 2020 exposes long-unaddressed structural inequities, more and more business leaders are asking themselves how they can push for diversity, equity, and inclusion within their own companies and surrounding communities. But knowing where to start can be intimidating. Do you start by rolling out internal diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) workshops, or by figuring out you’ll attract more diverse employees?
As far as first steps go, there really is no one-size-fits-all answer. A lot will depend on the culture you already have and your current employee makeup. Start by taking a hard look at where you are and where you want to be. From here, you can prioritize your efforts.
Keep in mind that building a workplace that fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion won’t be a linear process. There are many areas of focus that can be worked on at the same time, so it’s best to just get started wherever you see fit. If you have to build your bridge as you design it, that’s ok as long as you’re open and honest along the way.
As you outline your company’s DEI goals and devise a plan of action, keep these three things in mind:
You can’t outlaw bias
So many DEI training efforts fail because they’re led by enforcement, not encouragement. Naturally, people, especially those with strong opinions, tend to rebel against enforced rules. This is why many advise against mandatory DEI training and instead encourage optional instruction and workshops. Give people a choice and they’ll likely be more open to change.
Employees need to know where you stand as an organization
In the face of uncertainty, employees look to leadership for answers. It’s leadership’s job to determine how DEI initiatives will happen and what accountability will look like. You may not have all the answers and that’s ok, as long as you are in regular communication with your employees. Honest and clear communication will give your employees a better idea of their own roles in this mission and lead to faster, more productive change.
DEI initiatives take time
In the words of Kevin Silva, HR Manager and DEI thought leader, “Diversity is like planting a garden. You need to prepare the soil, but also you must nurture and maintain diversity. It’s a constant journey.” You can’t just hire a set number of Black employees and check off your diversity box. One DEI workshop won’t magically eliminate unconscious bias. Creating a culture that fosters and celebrates diversity will take time and you may not see immediate results. Once you begin this journey of learning and discovery, understand that you are never done. That is the goal. We should always be evolving.
As you create an initial plan for your DEI initiatives, don’t let fear get in your way of getting things done. You may make mistakes, but that is how we learn and move forward. As long as your efforts are charged with encouragement and transparency, you’ll be able to create a space where employees feel included and empowered.
Lesley Bruno: HR Consulting Services Leader, Dominion Payroll
Shayna Cooke: Vice President of Human Capital, Dominion Payroll