Diversity in the Age of Disruption Part 2

Part II: Where do we go from here?

Part I of this series considered how we ended up in a space where there is frustration over Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) initiatives in organizations—both from those who think not enough progress is being made and those who see such actions as overreach. It’s no wonder organizations are struggling on how to respond.

In order to move forward, we have to acknowledge the challenge and assess where we are vs. where we want to be. But more than that. Because this involves fundamental cultural change, the commitment has to be for the long-term. There are no shortcuts to enduring and meaningful change, so prepare for a multi-year, multi-phase journey. To get started, first…

  1. Signal the Intent

It’s more important to start small and with intention than to wait until you have everything figured out. In a constantly shifting landscape, that’s a luxury no organization can afford. The first step is to acknowledge the challenge ahead and demonstrate leadership commitment to tackling it. But, be warned, this isn’t simple lip-service and throwing some discretionary spending at mentoring lunches. Empty gestures are likely to backfire. Leadership requires courage in addressing how uncomfortable and disorienting change may be, but also the fortitude to see it through with actions backing up words. Employ consistent messaging and transparent communications focused on actions and long-term results.

  1. Clarify the Destination

Ground the end-state in your organization’s existing core values. A quick Google search yields the most common values include: integrity, respect, collaboration, continuous learning, citizenship, accountability, honesty, and authenticity. Your organization likely has the language in place already to frame a meaningful response. Note: I didn’t even include diversity; I didn’t need to. Each of these other values has a component of DEIB. Spend some time defining what your current core values look like in practice, not just as buzz-words, and characterize how those translate into behaviors through a DEIB lens—both at the organizational and individual levels. Formulate statements on how those core values live in practice in order to articulate what success looks like.

  1. Assess the Gap

Once you have defined where you are headed, look honestly at where you are in relation to it and the obstacles that are in the way. This will require assessments of both quantitative measures (e.g., recruiting and promotion pipelines) as well as qualitative ones (e.g., the employee experience). Remember it’s impossible to affect a given group’s experience positively unless the underlying environment is conducive to doing so. This isn’t just an assessment of minority or underrepresented groups and their experiences; it’s an assessment of behaviors and attitudes across the entire organization, collectively and individually.

  1. Build on the Big Rocks

Where most well-intentioned strategies and programs fail is here. We have a goal and start setting up programs, messaging and training to reach that goal, but the backlash comes when not everyone is brought along for the journey. For marginalized groups, it feels like something is being done for them, and for the rest it feels like something is being done to them. Everyone must feel a sense of shared accountability (relative to the core values) and a belief that there is a positive outcome in their best interest (What’s in it for me?). Start with common ground—the very base level where everyone can agree: the organization does better when we all work together, everyone deserves to be valued for their contribution, we all want to be heard and feel a sense of belonging. Then drill down on what that looks like from different perspectives and how infrastructure or behaviors might get in the way. This might be a series of facilitated conversations with a working group from a diverse cross-section of the organization based on the results of the assessment. The objective is to orient everyone around a common purpose and accountability for achieving it. Be prepared for this stage to be iterative and responsive to challengers from all sides.

  1. Let the Real Work Begin

Centering around a common purpose and shared accountability is one thing, what form that takes is completely another. What does belonging look like, and how does that become embedded in our culture? Here it’s equally about the nature of the seed and the soil in which it lands. There’s no shortcut to an effective cultural change journey. Remember the commitment to a long-term journey you made in step 1? This is where leadership’s mettle is tested and whether trust or distrust is sowed. Skipping any of the steps of the painstaking progression from generating awareness to creating desire and inspiring action to ensuring reinforcement risks resentment and retrenching into undesirable behavior, possibly ending up in a more destructive place than you started.

No question it’s a daunting effort and not one to be undertaken lightly. It requires leadership attention, investment, and stewardship. Inaction and half-measures lead to disengagement and resentment on all sides. It’s tempting to throw up our collective hands and shrink from the difficulty. However, in researching the most common core-values of organizations, I found the 2 most common to be around the themes of Integrity and Boldness. Now is the time to live them.

Barbara Milhizer