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Back to Work: How to Promote Authentic – Not Performative – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace

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Rightfully so, more organizations than ever before are evaluating – or, in many cases, instituting for the first time – their formal diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) practices and policies. However, just as with any new policy or procedure, there is a right and a wrong way to introduce it. Last year, a Yoh survey of 1,000 American workers found that while 41% say their company acknowledges holidays related to race, ethnicities or gender (e.g., Black History Month, Women’s History Month and/or Hispanic Heritage Month), their employer doesn’t take any specific actions to advocate for these groups. Worse still, more than one-fifth of workers say their company talks about improving diversity and equity in the workplace but does not follow through with action.

In many instances, what companies are doing with their DE&I initiatives can come across as inauthentic and simply performative. It’s all talk and little action.

In the newest episode of our Back to Work podcast series, host Joe McIntyre talks with Lloyd Freeman, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney PC. Buchanan is a law firm with offices throughout the country and hundreds of lawyers who specialize in a broad spectrum of legal matters. Lloyd is also the host of the Dimensions of Diversity podcast, where he interviews thought leaders on the many aspects of diversity in the workplace. On this episode of Back to Work, Joe and Lloyd discuss how creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace requires more than just empty gestures or performative actions. They delve into the importance of authenticity in DE&I practices and discuss strategies that HR leaders can adopt to foster genuine inclusivity.

 

Listen to the FUll Podcast Episode

 

 

Making DE&I a Priority – Not an Afterthought

In any organization, there are priorities – whether they’re increasing revenue, hiring new team members, improving a culture or embodying values. Some aspects of the company need to be given higher importance otherwise nothing becomes important. The same holds true for diversity, equity and inclusion.

In order for DE&I programs to be effective, they must be specifically prioritized and not simply treated as an add-on to a company’s culture. There needs to be investment into this program both in dollars and resources. Someone – ideally an individual at the C-suite level with a background and training in diversity, equity and inclusion – must be placed in charge of overseeing the program and ensuring its adoption. There has to be an evaluation of where an organization stands today with its diversity, equity and inclusion, where it wants to go, why (see below), and how to get there.

 

Define What Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Means for Your Organization

Every company is different (obviously), but when it comes to what diversity, equity and inclusion means, every company should have a different answer. What issue is your organization trying to solve by installing a DE&I program and why? Some companies may see gaps in the number of people of color they hire. Some may not have enough women in their workforce. Others may find they have no people from the LGBTQ+ community or that their workforce is full of only able-bodied individuals. Understanding what creating a more diverse, more equitable and more inclusive workforce means to your company is a critical place from which to start.

So, if you find that your organization is lacking people of color, why do you want to increase this number and why haven’t you hired more people of color in the past? Is your organization gender diverse across the board, or why is it that only men are in leadership positions? Do you see a gap in the number of LGBTQ+ individuals and want to discover why you may not be hiring from this candidate pool? If your company is predominately male or mostly white or primarily able-bodied, it’s first important to understand how this happened and what mechanisms must be put in place to ensure change happens in an effective way.

 

Examine Your Talent Acquisition Biases

In some ways, the fact that many of the inherent biases of the past that have been responsible for the failure of DE&I programs stem from the talent acquisition process is a good thing. It means that HR, recruitment teams and hiring managers have direct power to change the future right now.

The science and research says that people are naturally going to gravitate to people who are within your “tribe” – people who are most like you and share similar qualities, experiences and backgrounds. Think about your experiences meeting strangers, and it’s easy to see how this happens. We ask people questions about themselves – what is your job, where are you from, where did you go to school – in an effort to find commonalities to discuss. That may be fine for friendships, but when it comes to talent acquisition, always working to find similarities can be what leads to a workforce that isn’t as diverse as it should be.

Start improving by being aware of your affinity and confirmation biases and actively working to mitigate them. Taking Harvard’s Implicit Association Test is one way to identify them. Once they’ve been identified, one solution to preventing them from creeping into the talent acquisition process is by standardizing interview questions to infuse equity into the process.

Check out the full podcast episode to learn even more from Lloyd about how to ensure your DE&I program is authentic and built to enact change in a truly effective way.

Authentic DEI

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