Diversity and inclusion conversations are messy, and not having them is not a choice
Senior leaders in Corporate America are fearful about diversity and inclusion. They are saying things like:
- “This is so important that we want to get it right”
- “This is so complex; I am not the right person to talk about it”
- “Let’s hire an expert to help us figure out the solution.”
These are excuses. This is really code for “we want this to go away.” And, your team knows that you expect it to go away. The past has shown us that issues of gender equality and racial equality do go away eventually. #MeToo had a rise and fall, and backlash with men fearing working with women in the workplace 1:1 according to LeanIn. People of color are worried this will ride the same wave.
This time it is different
This is an unprecedented time of social change. With COVID lingering on everyone’s minds and people seeking purpose in their lives now more than ever, there has been an unparalleled global response to racial equality. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is the strongest it has been since its emergence in 2015. European soccer players have Black Lives Matter on their jerseys, 100,000+ have protested all over the world, and the Korean band KPOP following is taking over social media to advocate.
There has been sustained activity. For months now, racial equality has been consistently in the news and inside organizations focused beyond charitable contributions and corporate statements. Organizations are committing long-term to strategic plans rooted in inclusion, training beyond traditional one and done check the box programs, and are promoting cultures of allyship where we stand together to support equality for all humans.
Customers are increasingly applying pressure. Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben learned the lesson. Their brand imaging has been a known problem for perpetuating stereotypes for decades. Customers are unwilling to tolerate racist behavior. They will vote with their wallets if organizations do not change. Boards long have been applying pressure because of the well-documented business case for diversity – showing 87% better decisions, 19% higher revenues, and 21% higher profitability. No one wants to miss out on these outcomes.
What do you do?
Treat diversity and inclusion like any other part of your business. If it is important, talk about it often, just like you would anything else that is important. Give people tools, education, and content over time to get more comfortable and set the expectation that inclusive behavior is expected here. No exceptions.
Prioritize diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion cannot be done once a year or in a vacuum by an outside trainer or diversity and inclusion expert alone. Those marginalized already need support from the entire organization. Set the expectation that diversity and inclusion is everyone’s job and model it from the top down, especially with middle management who often feels left out of the conversation.
Measure it. What gets measured, gets done. You would never not measure profitability in for profit business or fundraising dollars in a non-profit. The same goes for diversity representation. Map out the employee life cycle from recruiting to hiring to pay and promotions and separations and see where you win and where you lose. Then hold managers accountable to getting better. Every journey starts with a single step. You have to know where you are beginning to measure success.
If you are not talking actively about diversity and inclusion right now, you are missing out. Your competitors are likely talking about it and other leaders are too. Silence and inaction is not a choice any longer. This will not go away. There is no magic bullet. Real diversity and inclusion comes with embedding behavior into your culture.