DEI is Not "One Size Fits All"

There is no universal standard for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and many experts and practitioners agree there are no simple best practices to implement either. This reality, and lack of clear direction can be troubling for leaders. Many create DEI strategies that aren’t sustainable or completely avoid the issue with the unspoken hope the topic will fade from the headlines.

But DEI is here to stay, and with public and internal attention turned to how organizations respond, businesses must take steps towards meaningful and sustainable change.

Now, two years into a global pandemic and amidst a racial reckoning punctuated by a recent series of high-profile court trials, we must be thoughtful and intentional in what we want and – even more importantly – what we hope to accomplish.

In order for DEI initiatives to be long lasting and impactful, it is important to ask: how do we take our organizations to the next level? Where do we go from here – and most importantly, what does 2022 have in store for DEI?

As the world becomes more diverse, organizations must follow suit by paying attention to and acting on DEI matters. By 2030, 75% of the labor force will be made up of people 20-49 years old. This group is one of the most diverse in history, and they expect a robust DEI strategy. They are the market – and the market ultimately determines the value of an organization’s offering – be it products or jobs.  The world is calling for action and accountability through a DEI lens.

Intentionality in Brand Messaging

All stakeholders look for the intentionality that come with a well-defined plan, and look at the past stance an organization has taken with respect to DEI matters. It is critical to communicate where the company is currently positioned and where it hopes to make progress. If there is no stated goal for diversity, equity and inclusion, companies will be left spinning their wheels and hoping to avoid harsh public criticism.  

Consumers also want to ensure organizations hold their people and suppliers accountable, especially on social media. Not only does it matter what is said by agents of the company, a lack of response from an organization can have consequences to the brand as well. Simply put, organizations should consider if the DEI program is reactionary to a trend, or if there are earnest efforts to put mechanisms in place to move the organization forward, leading with a DEI strategy that is flexible and sustainable. In this light, it is advisable to be proactive in communicating DEI efforts; regular social media posts and persistent messaging on the corporate website are a good place to start.

Understand the Difference Between Genuine and Performative Coalition Building

The public is highly attuned to DEI matters as they frequently make front page news and can spot inauthentic allyship and empty gestures.

Genuine DEI ownership is centered in honesty, integrity and active change.

If a program or initiative is not well thought out, or fails to encompass different perspectives and provide accessibility for different people, it will not go unnoticed. As a reaction to racial injustice around the world, and public cries for change, many organizations pledged to make impactful changes and embrace DEI initiatives in earnest. However, many of these same organizations remain silent, even when attention is drawn to their internal issues.

Inaction is gaining attention, sometimes more so than action. Organizations must go beyond the performative – genuine efforts require flexibility, sustainability and buy-in throughout the organization.

Organizations must listen to the needs of the constituents. For example, when creating a solution to ensure senior leadership is diverse and inclusive, it is important that the leadership is representative of the organization’s workforce, otherwise this gesture is performative and inauthentic.

Transforming Rather than Changing

Transformation requires a methodical approach that enables intentionality in order to alter organizational behavior, rather than simply change the methods of delivery. This process takes competence, compassion and commitment.

With many long-term and far-reaching goals, forward thinking organizations are on a journey towards transformation. But it cannot happen overnight – it is a goal-oriented process that takes time and consistent effort. Also, it must be understood that there is no “destination” for transformation, it is a process intended to create a culture of inclusion and equity, then maintain it in what we all already know is a dynamic, ever-changing world.

Looking Forward

There are no codified best practices for DEI implementation. But there are promising practices that can be put to use and refined over time; ultimately leading to common practices that are so well established in the culture they are a given.

To start, organizations should consider these promising practices:

  • Establish the goal of your organization’s DEI strategy. What are you looking to gain? What are you willing to lose? What are the short-term measurable goals? How will long-term goals build brand value and consumer loyalty while adding to your bottom line?
  • Once the goals are established, make a plan to reach them. An analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) is a useful tool to outline that plan and determine where efforts should be directed. This understanding will help create buy-in and keep leadership team on an intentional path.
  • Start small and gather incremental wins. This helps to build momentum and buy-in on all levels. This may be as simple as including space for pronouns in email signatures, or ensuring gender neutral language is used in all policies and procedures within the office. These are small, but they add up to sustainable change over time.
  • Designate resources and appropriate staff support towards the goal. DEI is not a one size fits all plan; it is malleable but requires an intentional approach to be successful. Importantly, this approach must not reactionary and needs to be well thought out. Make sure to be inclusive of the people who are supposed to be centered in this work, and remember that inclusion is not exclusionary.

2022 Prediction

DEI is not a fading trend – on the contrary, it is becoming more informed. Words like transparency and honesty are taking on a new life as organizations are held to account for their actions (and inactions). The coming years will continue to shed light on the transformation organizations are undergoing. Employee, consumer and stakeholder attention to DEI in the workplace will continue to escalate and organizations will need to work diligently to ensure their programs are sustainable, well-resourced and authentic.

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