Since the tragic death of George Floyd and the following outcry, many companies re-centered diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging as a strategic business imperative. They put their money where their mouths were. They issued statements of support, adjusted company budgets, and redefined performance indicators to facilitate that centering.
Almost two and a half years later, I’ve received mixed messages about whether those grand gestures stuck and if DEIB was prioritized. In some circumstances, the efforts were labeled as performative exercises. They missed the mark on creating deep and abiding progress resulting in sustainable change.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I think it’s fair to share my past feelings about diversity and inclusion initiatives. As an HR professional, the prospect of working on (let alone leading) diversity & inclusion efforts did not inspire me. Partly because they felt superficial & disingenuous and partly because as a Black woman, I’d spent a fair amount of time concerned with, subjected to, and regulated by other’s opinions of me. So, I found it challenging to get excited about D&I when I routinely experienced a work reality antithetical to equity, inclusion, or belonging.
Diversity means variety, difference and multiformity. Historically, leaders wrongly placed an emphasis on diversity which often became a proxy for numbers. They fixated on demographics and the story demographics told about their organization. The story that focused solely on the aesthetics of numerical outcomes. It’s not wrong to focus on the result. However, I submit that numbers should be a secondary focus rather than the primary.
Prioritizing Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
As time progressed, thinking evolved, and the discipline expanded. Practitioners understood that employees wanted a better sense of fair play in the workplace. The shift toward equity, inclusion and belonging embraced the effort of making the workplace more welcoming and open to the lived experiences of all. When leaders followed suit and made EIB their primary focus, the conversation and the work turned toward centering the employee experience.
This shift makes room to consider and understand the universal needs of all individuals to be seen, heard, and valued. It positions leaders to be curious and listen for direct and indirect markers about organizational climate. Focusing on EIB shows leadership’s interest in their employee’s take on what works, as well as their willingness to address what doesn’t. It also encourages those who feel marginalized (and may not be squeaky wheels) to participate in the process.
I advise all leaders to regularly take stock of the work your organization engages in to center DEIB. By focusing on equity, inclusion and belonging as pattern and practice, you can ensure you thread the needle through all your people and business strategies. At the heart of this should be the question, “Are all employees equally advantaged based on their unique needs?” Some internal areas on which you can focus are listed below:
- Talent Acquisition
- People Policies & Practices
- Project Team Selection
- Talent Management
- Growth & Development
- Funding Opportunities
If you have any questions about centering diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in your organization please contact me here.