Diversity and inclusion need to go beyond buzzwords into action taken at the very top of a company’s leadership, say experts in the field. In order to actually create an inclusive workspace, businesses need to have diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) considerations across the company.
A first step in ensuring DEI success is “not to see it as a program,” says Nika White, president of Nika White Consulting, which specializes in helping businesses achieve its diversity and inclusion goals. To sustain diversity, equity and inclusion in a company, White says, “it has to be something that is thought of as being operationalized in all aspects of an organization.”
“We need to get people to be much more thoughtful about the need to drive towards impact and not activity,” she says.
When companies rely on a singular program, White says, it’s a mistake. Instead, business leaders need to look at “systems, policies, procedures, culture.” Just because a company has a diversity activity doesn’t mean it makes an impact.
Adding DEI across an organization means also measuring what the company is doing. What are actions that can be taken? What are those tracking and measuring methods? Who is being held accountable?
White says that humans are wired to have some bias creep into our thinking. When we acknowledge that, we can better learn to mitigate our biases.
Moryah Jackson, vice president of community development and engagement at United Community Bank, who formerly worked at Clemson University as the director of diversity education, says people need to be ready to reach out for help if they want to create teams that are more diverse and inclusive. It also requires structural changes — in policies and behavior — that may be difficult at first for companies. “We’ve seen that when we make structural changes, we do see the results,” she says.
Jackson says the past year has allowed much of society to understand that there’s a lot of blind spots when it comes to inclusion.
“I don’t think we should take this moment for granted or underestimate that, because I mean, let’s face it, a lot of these issues, most of these issues, they’ve been around for decades,” says Jackson. “But organizations and businesses have really stepped up.”
For Jackson, companies that have embraced diversity, equity and inclusion have done so by laying the groundwork throughout the organization for DEI. That foundation, she says, should take into account the company’s industry, the company’s history and where the company is even operating.
This is echoed by White, who says years-old handbooks, policy guides and other items may have never been developed with inclusion in mind. It’s why she recommends a deep assessment for organizations to fully understand how they can increase their inclusivity, White says.
“We have to get people to stop seeing diversity, equity and inclusion as an obligation, and to see it as an opportunity,” she says.