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How to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace

Contributors: PK Sundar

Clarkston Consulting recently sat down with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE+I) leader at a multi-billion-dollar global medical device company to hear insights on how they have been evolving the DE+I vision at their organization, championing change, leading a global DE+I team, and balancing diversity needs across various Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).  Below we outline some of the valuable takeaways from this conversation for how to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace: 

Figuring Out Alignment and Prioritizing Culture Change 

The company began their journey by working to strengthen the foundation of DE+I across the organization by establishing a common language and going back to the basics. They recognized a need to “reach people where they are” to better understand how to use DE+I to strengthen the company and its mission. Through a series of conversations, they were able to align on what diversity, equity, and inclusion means for the company and why it’s crucial for driving results and delivering on their mission.  

It’s also important to remember and prioritize the human element of diversity and inclusion. When discussing DE+I topics, leaders should be mindful of how to humanize it. Being a kind colleague and potentially stepping away from the political and numerical elements when discussing DE+I can have a huge impact. Though no one has the perfect answer to solving DE+I challenges, reading and listening to others’ stories helps to have a better appreciation of someone else’s experiences. Organizations that can build a foundation of common understanding and language while also humanizing DE+I topics will be able to work through DE+I challenges far more effectively. 

DE+I Isn’t a Project – It’s a Way of Working  

When organizations approach DE+I, it’s often thought about in terms of a company initiative with planned communication and activities. While having actionable goals, events, and agendas are important, thinking too much about the checklist can be harmful. What is most important is how we embed it into our everyday ways of working.  How are we treating people? Are we ensuring our employees feel valued, seen, and heard?  

Leaders shouldn’t think of DE+I as another project or business objective, but rather they should have it embedded in the way they perform their job. Doing their job in a way that allows others to authentically show up as themselves takes pressure off the enormity of DE+I and improves overall leadership. One example is how leaders are showing up in meetings: are they recognizing others’ contributions and championing others’ opinions?  

Meetings are a simple way to deepen an employee’s sense of belonging and purpose and allow them to see that their contributions matter. Leaders in any organization should remember that “inclusion is an everyday opportunity.”   

Though most diversity initiatives cannot be solved in one day’s work, showing up each day with this lens increases inclusion in strides. Remember: Inclusion = “seen, valued, heard.” 

ERGs and Intersectionality 

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led diversity groups that provide support and a means to come together over shared experiences and backgrounds. ERGs create a safe space for employees who share a common identity or background, such as gender, race, or religion, and often includes allies who desire to join in support.  

Organizations are striving for increased representation, and ERGs are an effective resource for creating inclusion and providing a sense of emotional and psychological safety. When there are others in the room who look like you or who have similar experiences, people often feel more comfortable speaking up and letting their voices be heard.  

ERGs should serve as a voice for their organization, encouraging departments and teams to support their colleagues, and open additional paths for opportunity. ERG leaders often pour their whole selves into this effort and desire to shift the culture, but the caution here is the potential burnout that can result when the role feels like an additional job and when they are the sole “doers.”  

A DE+I Council can be a great way to support ERG leaders, breaking down silos and helping them to feel support from the larger organization. It also creates a means to bridge the gaps between various resource groups. An overarching council can help to address challenges that might intersect across multiple groups, leveraging intersectionality. ERGs should focus on the challenges of their specific group and how to support their members through them, while also being supportive of other ERGs and leveraging their platforms. 

As organizations look to build their own DE+I Council, one early effort that this company instituted was a common ERG calendar, where all ERGs would support and recognize a distinct group each month, such as Women’s History Month or Black History Month. Each ERG can take their own spin on it, but the collective helps to send a stronger cohesive message to support intersectionality across the organization. 

Support from Leadership 

During our discussion, the company explained the importance of having support from the top. When organizations have leadership that supports DE+I efforts, they can be more transparent about what’s happening across the organization and allow for the voice of their colleagues to come through. The company’s DE+I leaders also receive support from its board of directors, who are willing to help hold the company accountable to its efforts. This support is extremely important, they said, in their ongoing journey as a global DE+I leader.  

They also mentioned support for their initiative to shift their culture to a skills-based methodology, which allows the company to push the envelope in areas that have historically been very trying. By partnering with other DE+I leaders in multiple industries, the company has been able to test their own approach and learn from others. For most companies, the historical focus has been on gender – in particular, binary gender. Recognition that companies need to amplify focus on race, LGBTQ+, non-binary gender, and other demographics is a common topic across DE&I leaders. 

Final Thoughts on How to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace

DE+I impact is achieved by prioritizing empathetic humanization of topics rather than merely goal setting and activity planning. Being a champion of DE+I should be part of everyday lives and everyday roles. Meetings, unconscious biases, allyship, and friendship are underlying drivers of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.  

For advice on how to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and to help your organization have more human understanding and utilize DE+I to drive impact, please reach out to us today to learn more about our DE+I Consulting Services. 

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Contributions from Darby Davis

Tags: Diversity + Inclusion, Leadership