How to El­e­vate Di­ver­sity, Eq­uity, and In­clu­sion Work in Your Or­ga­ni­za­tion

Business a.m. - - EXECUTIVE KNOWLEDGE SERIES -

THERE IS A WIDE GAP BE­TWEEN or­ga­ni­za­tions en­gag­ing in di­ver­sity, eq­uity, and in­clu­sion (DEI) work and those that are ac­tu­ally valu­ing it, ac­cord­ing to Whar­ton man­age­ment pro­fes­sor Stephanie Creary. In this opin­ion piece, she of­fers a frame­work for how com­pa­nies can change DEI work from an un­re­warded side hus­tle to a mer­it­wor­thy prac­tice that is val­ued across the com­pany. Creary’s ar­ti­cle orig­i­nally ap­peared on the LinkedIn plat­form of best­selling au­thor and so­cial psy­chol­o­gist Amy Cuddy, as part of the #ShareTheMi­cNow so­cial me­dia cam­paign in which black women schol­ars and ac­tivists take over the ac­counts of in­flu­en­tial white women for a day in or­der to am­plify their voices and ideas.

To ad­dress sys­temic racism, many or­ga­ni­za­tions are start­ing to cre­ate anti-racist di­ver­sity, eq­uity, and in­clu­sion (DEI) change agen­das. Yet, my on­go­ing re­search into cor­po­rate DEI prac­tices sug­gests that there is a wide chasm sep­a­rat­ing those or­ga­ni­za­tions do­ing DEI work and those that are ac­tu­ally valu­ing the DEI work be­ing done. Here is a sum­mary of a few key is­sues that DEI ex­perts and their or­ga­ni­za­tions cur­rently face:

First, DEI ex­perts and their work have been de­val­ued for some time. Specif­i­cally, ex­perts of­ten lack ad­e­quate staff and fi­nan­cial re­sources to cre­ate pro­grams and ini­tia­tives de­signed to im­prove em­ploy­ees’ ex­pe­ri­ences and work­place out­comes. The lack of suf­fi­cient bud­get and staff also makes it dif­fi­cult for ex­perts to help their or­ga­ni­za­tions ad­dress sys­temic racism, which has be­come a pri­or­ity in many or­ga­ni­za­tions to­day.

Sec­ond, DEI ex­perts are of­ten tasked with a seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble set of goals; that is, not only are they ex­pected to help their or­ga­ni­za­tions view di­ver­sity as help­ing rather than hin­der­ing their work­places, they also need to help their or­ga­ni­za­tions cre­ate a cul­ture where ev­ery­one feels val­ued and be­lieves that pro­cesses and out­comes are fair. Yet, DEI ex­perts of­ten lack the power and author­ity to drive change pro­cesses in their or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Third, in or­der for DEI work to mat­ter, em­ploy­ees at all lev­els need to be com­mit­ted and en­gaged in do­ing the work. Yet, this is not of­ten the case. For ex­am­ple, re­search sug­gests that mid­dle man­agers have long strug­gled to un­der­stand their role in DEI work and have been less com­mit­ted to do­ing the work. In com­par­i­son, women — in­clud­ing women of color — and racial mi­nori­ties more broadly have his­tor­i­cally taken on the brunt of this work even though re­search sug­gests that they may be pe­nal­ized for do­ing so.

When is­sues like th­ese are re­vealed, a com­mon rec­om­men­da­tion has been to give DEI ex­perts a big­ger bud­get and more staff. While th­ese re­sources are vi­tal, there is a larger point around valu­ing DEI work that can be­come lost in or­ga­ni­za­tions’ ef­forts to “throw money at the prob­lem.” Here­after, I pro­pose a more sys­tem­atic way for­ward.

A MERIT Frame­work for Valu­ing DEI Work

Merit-based prac­tices can have ob­jec­tive fea­tures. Re­search on merit sug­gests that – to be fair – re­wards should be dis­trib­uted based on peo­ple’s ac­tual ef­forts, which should be the same across groups. In this re­spect, ac­tual ef­forts and re­wards can be cod­i­fied and sys­tem­at­i­cally eval­u­ated sim­i­larly across groups. How­ever, there are down­sides to merit-based prac­tices; re­search has found that they can cre­ate dis­par­i­ties when ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency into the re­ward sys­tem is lack­ing.

Merit is also sub­jec­tively eval­u­ated and ap­plied. Namely, peo­ple un­der­stand and ap­ply merit dif­fer­ently in the work­place based on their own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences. My re­search in­ter­views with cor­po­rate lead­ers in­clud­ing DEI ex­perts sug­gest that peo­ple also eval­u­ate the merit of DEI work dif­fer­ently – mean­ing that peo­ple who be­lieve that DEI work is im­por­tant will­ingly and ac­tively en­gage in it, while oth­ers dis­miss it and do not will­ingly par­tic­i­pate in it.

The lack of con­sis­tency in cod­i­fy­ing and treat­ing DEI work as a merit-wor­thy en­deavor for all em­ploy­ees – that is, wor­thy of in­vest­ment, vis­i­bil­ity, and other re­wards – threat­ens its suc­cess. Claim­ing that DEI is im­por­tant – while pe­nal­iz­ing those who are more apt and will­ing to en­gage in it (i.e., women, women of color, racial mi­nori­ties) is a racist and sex­ist prac­tice. Fur­ther, pe­nal­iz­ing those who want to do DEI work (and telling them not to do it or not re­ward­ing them for do­ing it) while in­cen­tiviz­ing and re­ward­ing those who need to be con­vinced to do it is dis­crim­i­na­tory.

To mit­i­gate th­ese is­sues and to help lead­ers who are se­ri­ous about do­ing DEI work learn how to treat it as merit-wor­thy, I of­fer a “MERIT” frame­work for valu­ing DEI work, which ac­counts for both the ob­jec­tive and sub­jec­tive no­tions of merit.

M: Make DEI goals and work ac­tion­able, mea­sur­able, and ev­i­dence­based.

A com­mon de­fense against do­ing DEI work is that it is ab­stract or not prac­ti­cal. When it comes to race, an oft-heard de­fense is that we should all be “col­or­blind.” To chip away at th­ese de­fenses, lead­ers need to make sure that their or­ga­ni­za­tion’s DEI goals are con­crete and mea­sur­able. This also means that the DEI work that peo­ple are ex­pected to do should be ac­tion­able so that it seems do-able for all. Re­gard­ing race work, specif­i­cally, lead­ers should pro­vide ev­i­dence re­veal­ing the costs of racial col­or­blind­ness, which may con­tra­dict long-held be­liefs about race

that may be im­ped­ing lead­ers from pro­gress­ing a DEI change agenda fo­cused on im­prov­ing racial eq­uity and in­clu­sion.

E: El­e­vate DEI work in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally.

To marginal­ize some­one or some­thing means “to rel­e­gate to an unim­por­tant or pow­er­less po­si­tion within a so­ci­ety or group.” In com­par­i­son, to el­e­vate some­one or some­thing means to “raise in rank or sta­tus.” To el­e­vate DEI work and race work specif­i­cally, the CEO should spear­head th­ese ef­forts. As­sum­ing this re­spon­si­bil­ity, the CEO should not only pro­vide an ap­pro­pri­ate bud­get and level of re­sources to ad­dress DEI is­sues and op­por­tu­ni­ties, but should also in­crease the vis­i­bil­ity of this work and the peo­ple who will be needed to ex­e­cute it. To ac­com­plish the lat­ter will re­quire greater in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal trans­parency. One op­tion is for the CEO to com­mis­sion an an­nual DEI re­port that shares the DEI work that the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been do­ing and any progress it has made to­ward meet­ing its goals.

R: Re­quire lead­ers and man­agers to par­tic­i­pate in be­hav­ior-based DEI train­ings.

Yes, di­ver­sity train­ing can work. How­ever, it can­not be only ori­ented to­ward in­creas­ing aware­ness or chang­ing at­ti­tudes. It must also be be­hav­ior-based. DEI work is not in­tu­itive. Peo­ple need to be taught how to en­gage in the types of be­hav­iors that or­ga­ni­za­tions would like to see. To show that DEI is val­ued work, CEOs should re­quire lead­ers and man­agers to at­tend train­ings that are fo­cused on im­prov­ing

their DEI work-re­lated skills.

I: Iden­tify lead­ers and non-man­age­rial em­ploy­ees will­ing to serve as DEI spon­sors.

CEOs and DEI ex­perts should not be the only lead­ers speak­ing up in sup­port of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s DEI goals and work. A long-stand­ing prac­tice in com­pa­nies ex­pe­ri­enced in DEI work has been to ap­point ex­ec­u­tive spon­sors or “cham­pi­ons” to DEI ini­tia­tives. Yet, to­day, many newer and younger em­ploy­ees are pas­sion­ate about DEI work and are look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties to help their com­pa­nies.

One op­tion would be to cre­ate DEI spon­sor roles for non-man­age­rial em­ploy­ees who can work with the DEI team and their man­agers to im­ple­ment DEI goals and work in their teams. How­ever, they should be re­warded for do­ing this work (see “T” be­low).

T: Treat DEI work as core rather than pe­riph­eral work.

In or­der to im­prove DEI and erad­i­cate sys­temic racism, all need to shift their mind­sets and their prac­tices from treat­ing DEI as an un­re­warded “side hus­tle” (i.e. pe­riph­eral work) to treat­ing it as merit-wor­thy work (i.e., core work). To ac­com­plish this, DEI ex­perts need to have ti­tles (e.g., Chief Di­ver­sity Of­fi­cer) and re­port­ing re­la­tion­ships (e.g., re­port to the CEO) that match the im­por­tance of their work. Lead­ers, man­agers, and em­ploy­ees who have tra­di­tion­ally treated DEI work as “ex­tra” work need to be eval­u­ated based on their per­for­mance of this work if it is to be taken se­ri­ously. One op­tion is for lead­ers to in­clude DEI work as a sec­tion in ac­tual per­for­mance eval­u­a­tions since th­ese tools are of­ten used as the ba­sis for deter­min­ing other re­wards, in­clud­ing pay, pro­mo­tion, and bonuses.

Yes — ev­ery­one needs to take ac­tions to ad­dress sys­temic racism and DEI. But lead­ers — in­clud­ing the CEO — need to treat the ac­tions be­ing taken as MERIT-wor­thy in or­der to en­sure that DEI ini­tia­tives and ef­forts to erad­i­cate sys­temic racism are sus­tain­able far be­yond the ebbs and flows of the cur­rent news cy­cle.

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