Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is all around us, and still a mystery to many. It’s difficult to know where it begins and ends, and what must be present to yield the desired results. Below is an un-checklist of what I consider to be essential ingredients for getting EDI right. None of them can be turned into a “check the box” activity or program, but each is necessary.
We live in a reactionary world, particularly related to equity, diversity and inclusion. Every day, people tell me how overwhelmed they are, constantly reacting to hateful acts in their communities, negative feedback from employees, or complaints from customers. From a defensive posture, it’s difficult to have and convey a clear and hopeful message about who you are, what fuels your values, and what commitments you will make long-term, beyond the crisis du jour. Developing an EDI philosophy allows you to take an affirmative stance; to set an unwavering expectation.2. Picture
Picture what it will look like when it’s done well. For too long much of the focus of EDI work has been on what not to do, what we haven’t done correctly. Reflecting on where we are and how we got to this point is important, as is accountability, but focusing on the rearview mirror does not lead to motivation or engagement. We need to instill a sense of hope that effort—intentionally applied to pursue strategic goals—will lead to a desirable outcome.
Looking inward to others who are also feeling isolated or in learning mode is a poor recipe for innovation. Gain perspective by engaging a broad and diverse array of ideas from various industries, roles and levels within your organization, and voices and relationships external to your organization. EDI is a domain that has been ill-defined and often ill-positioned in many organizations. Avoid just doing more of what you’ve done in the past or relying solely on people who have been assigned EDI roles. Now it is time to expand our purview, widen our lenses, and be ever in learning mode.
You and all of the people you lead need to know where you are going. They don’t want a pie-in-the-sky idea about a utopian tomorrow, they need a step-by-step understanding of what they are expected to focus on for the next six months, year, or three years. Any path begins with a baseline understanding of current reality, and points us in the direction of a more desirable future. In between those two points is strategy, filled with small and large milestones that help people connect their work with progress, and allows you to identify and reward inclusive behaviors and practices.
No one is going to get everything “right” without having room to learn. As with any competence, the space to practice with the guidance of trusted and well-equipped teachers is essential. Encourage learning in your organization. Recognize and reward people for trying. Avoid blaming or shaming anyone for not knowing or not feeling confident. When it comes to EDI, we are all learners.
Find ways to encourage people on your team and in your organization to get engaged with EDI. Create multiple access points for people to see the connection between EDI and their work, relationships, careers, and impact on customers.
Process is one of the most important and under-prioritized opportunities to invest in healthy organizational culture, particularly trust. The absence of a thoughtful and shared process results in employees feeling that they are not being heard, their needs are not taken into consideration when important decisions are being made, and that leaders are authoritarian and power-wielding. On the other hand, the presence of a thoughtfully designed and effectively communicated process - that allows employees to see alignment of organizational values with decision-making processes, when and how their input will be included, and allows for many touch points between leaders and employees - leads to enhanced engagement and builds trust.
8. Persistent Pursuit
When I ask people to describe their past experiences with EDI efforts, the resounding sentiment can be summed up as “episodic.”. We dibble and dabble in EDI. Sometimes we offer training, for some employees and on the topic du jour, like microaggressions or bias. Sometimes we start a committee in response to negative feedback on a climate survey. Sometimes we get excited about recruitment. Or when we lose some of our visible employees of color, retention comes into center stage. We don’t do budgeting sometimes. Or marketing sometimes. For EDI to be effective and impactful, and for organizations to yield positive results on any of the aforementioned areas, it must be consistently, no persistently, pursued like any other strategic priority.
Evidence of progress is increasingly important. Accountability is on the rise, in employee representation through various levels (rather than aggregate only), in the C-Suite, on the Board, and among investors. Customers expect their products and services to represent cultural competence. Gen Zs are not settling for less than a workplace that reflects inclusive values – and puts those values into practice in ways that are stretching the managerial and leadership muscles of people who have held those positions for decades. New standards are actively being developed to measure EDI; these standards move past counting to impact.
For my entire career I’ve been told “be patient,” “this is difficult work; it takes time,” “we need to wait until our budgets are better,” “we need to wait for the new person to be hired.” Let’s keep it real, there is no more time to wait. Now is the time to step forward, to figure out how we are going to do what we haven’t fully invested in figuring out before–but is absolutely solvable. If you just don’t know where to start, contact us, we can help. But don’t stay still any longer. The time to start is now.
Together, we can.
Inclusion is a goal for all of our organizations, but we often stop at inspirational statements. What does inclusion look like concretely? In our 6-module course, "Work of EDI," you will learn practical skills and tools for developing inclusion visibly in your organization. The situations we find ourselves in daily are ripe with opportunities for an inclusive lens: working one-on-one, facilitating groups, setting policy, and living our values. Learn more about the program.