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Taking a multi-pronged approach to diversity, equity and inclusion in business

The following article is from Medium

Spurred by the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent national unrest related to inequality in our society, all industries have been reawakened to the need for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts in business — from the way we conduct our work externally, to the organizational culture that either enables or hinders DEI for our employees.

In recent years, many organizations have focused on DEI, but this current time of change and transformation calls for real action that makes a difference and highlights what is and isn't working in existing DEI efforts. As an organization serving a variety of constituencies and operating several lines of business, we find ourselves in a unique position to effect change on multiple levels. We believe success in DEI efforts lies in a multi-pronged approach that addresses organizational culture, employees and external partners.

To develop our approach, we revisited our values and beliefs as an organization and aligned around a new, bold DEI statement that was clear in who we are, yet aspirational in who we want to be. Through this effort, we confirmed that this work is hard, and to effectuate sustainable change, we need engagement and energy at the individual, team and enterprise levels.

Culture
Our framework for a culture supportive of DEI means building an inclusive and supportive environment through common language, definitions, expectations, education and training. To do this, we have focused on:

  • Connections: Establishing employee-led and executive-sponsored employee network groups, as well as mentorship.
  • Education: Training around DEI, facilitating open discussions, sharing curated content, developing tools for leaders and celebrating national observances.
  • Setting a baseline: Recognizing that there is a starting point by which we will measure and review our efforts against specific goals.

This framework also involves engaging individuals and teams by highlighting DEI in group discussions, as well as individual events/activities, education sessions and self-assessment. To do this, we chose to utilize the intercultural development inventory assessment tool, starting with our top leaders and expanding to our broader management group. This assessment helps individuals understand their cultural competence, giving them a starting point from which to grow and develop — ultimately helping the organization fulfill its DEI goals.

People
On the organizational, team and individual levels, we are focusing on our employees. This means attracting and retaining a diverse and inclusive workforce through processes and tools that help us hire, engage, promote and retain diverse talent.

To do this at an organizational level, we must support DEI in recruiting and retaining talent, as well as in professional development. At the individual and team levels, this involves focusing on inclusiveness within teams, creating one-on-one moments of connectedness between individuals from different backgrounds and recognizing those that live out our DEI statement. Ultimately, we aspire to be known as an employer of choice for diverse employees across the U.S.

Partners
Beyond work internally, we recognize how essential it is to build a network externally that aligns with DEI efforts by supporting and building a diverse community of partners with shared values and goals. As an organization, this means assessing supplier, business and community partner diversity, as well as setting goals and measuring against our baseline. For individuals and teams, this means pursing activities with external partners and volunteering within diverse communities, which will help them expand their interactions, broaden their perspectives, and develop understanding and empathy.

This framework can be used in any industry with companies of any size. The key is beginning the process by asking for input, involvement and people's voices, and then using the structure to organize ideas and to develop an approach to take action.

It also means acknowledging the need to dedicate resources to support these efforts. Senior leadership alignment around DEI priorities is critical. If this is truly a priority, additional assets must be made proactively available to support the work. Start by looking in your own backyard; you almost certainly have a wealth of resources internally. For example, we had a frontline employee step into a role dedicated to DEI, and she is now a leader and a key resource in these efforts. We also leveraged our employee knowledge through listening sessions and conversations that led us in the development of our goals.

Asking employees how they view DEI and how they see action being taken can make a difference and help organizations understand where they can make an impact. For us, this involved surveying all our employees to learn their viewpoints on DEI and their ideas for how we should take action, as well as enlisting the help of passionate employees to identify co-leads for our employee network groups, and holding discussions with senior leaders to gather ideas about the most meaningful ways our organization can achieve our goals. All of these inputs were critical to developing our roadmap moving forward.

This multi-pronged approach helped us realize we could do more, and at a rapid pace. We wanted to create something that would start conversations but also have staying power. This meant getting employees involved early on and creating a structure that would allow us to approach DEI holistically as an organization and to embed it as an effort founded in employee passion and commitment.

We believe a diverse, inclusive and equitable culture is built on a strong sense of belonging, where everyone feels seen, heard and encouraged to show up as their authentic self. By putting a greater, more structured focus on DEI, we are working together as a community united in and strengthened by our differences today and well into the future.

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