Diversity and inclusion strategies have three key elements – the what, the why, and the how
Leadership team in Corporate America have awoken. They know diversity is a problem, and they are not sure where to start. For those painfully behind on the diversity and inclusion journey, it is never too late to start. As with any journey, this one also starts with a strategy.
To craft a strong diversity and inclusion strategy, you need clarity.
With any strategy, it must start with clarity about what it is. Diversity and inclusion terms mean different things to different people. For some, diversity is specific to categories of different races, ethnicities, industries, genders, sexual orientation, disabilities. For others, it is more broadly defined by different perspectives and representation. A strong definition is clear, honest, and easy to remember.
The analogy is often used diversity is being invited to the party or being hired at the organization, inclusion is feeling you belong at the party or the organization. Having diversity without inclusion is short-lived. Without inclusion, diverse talent often leaves the organization. The turnover rates for diverse talent are generally 2-3x the majority group due to this lack of inclusion. Resist the urge to just recruit and hire diverse talent. If the culture is not inclusive, they will not stay.
Inclusion goes beyond diversity metrics and optics and is the feeling that humans innately crave as social creatures. Humans want to belong in the places they are, and if they do not, they will leave. Define what inclusion means to your organization – capture all of the feelings asking questions like – how do you feel when you feel included? How would you describe belonging? What does inclusion look like?
Paint the picture of diversity and inclusion for the team. Help them see the vision of what we are striving toward. Have this front and center on diversity and inclusion training programs and team meetings. Set the expectation that this is how we do business.
Simon Sinek famously coined the phrase “Start with the Why” due to our human behavior being rooted in emotion. As humans, we like to think we make decisions logically but we really make them in our most primal part of our brain – the limbic system which is responsible for emotions. That is why we have strong preferences to brands and say things like “I just like it” or “It makes me feel good” to justify our emotional decisions later.
The why is powerful. Make sure your team has a strong why for diversity and inclusion. Ask questions like – why is this important to us? What if nothing changes? What makes us believe this is a priority now?
Listen, ask clarifying questions, and capture the essence of the why with your organization. Remind people often of why this is a non-negotiable behavior and expectation. Letting little non-inclusive behaviors continue is not an option. Be sure people know what good looks like and why before going to the how.
Most leaders start here. That is a mistake because without clarity of what we are focused on and why, people will often generate simple, knee-jerk responses that do not address root cause issues. If diversity and inclusion were easy, we would have done it already. There are systemic barriers that need to be removed and addressed and people that likely need to leave for the organization to be truly inclusive.
The how is about holding people accountable to a road map of behavior shifts over time to achieve the what, while reminding them of the why to keep the positive momentum alive. Ask questions like – what do we want to achieve? What does success look like? What actions are needed to get there?
Most often, education and awareness are first steps. People cannot fix what they do not understand. Later in the journey comes thought leadership and outreach and results. Stay with it because it is a long game, there are no short cuts. And, be sure to engage white men as allies from the onset. We need those with power and privilege the most in this conversation. As 90%+ of decision makers, we need our allies engaged, speaking up, advocating and amplifying the voices of those that are underrepresented.