2021 is promising to add great emphasis on a new leadership role at the top echelon of companies and organizations covering DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). Events throughout the past year have generated renewed attention to racial equity and the demand for DEI experts to advise and train on the matter has grown rapidly.
Consequentially, companies have stepped up internal efforts to add focus towards DEI and related requirements. There is a good reason as Dr. Nika White, a professional friend and nationally acclaimed DEI expert eloquently states:
“DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION IS NOT JUST A CHECKMARK FOR GOOD BUSINESS, IT’S A WAY TO TRANSFORM THE WORLD.”Dr Nika White
From my perspective, the subject of DEI appears to come in waves. Every time some significant events take place, typically with fatal outcomes for minority members of our society and people of color, the stakes are raised. When people demand changes be instituted some companies, predominantly publicly listed organizations, intensify training efforts, hire consultants for related projects and advice, and take well-meaning initiatives.
Unfortunately, as the dust settles the impact of most of these DEI-focused activities subsides, too. The 800-pound gorilla in the room can be defined with one simple question:
How to make DE&I-related positive changes more effective and sustainable?
Now, I do have an opinion on the matter at hand which might warrant some reflection and, possibly, consideration. To effectively integrate DEI into the organizational culture in a sustainable fashion requires a strong foundation of antiracism. I know many readers will right now gasp for air thinking “I am not a racist”, what does this guy want? As a matter of fact, defining what “antiracism” really means in bringing it to fruition is the first of several steps to come:
- Recognizing the fact that there are only two valid positions to be in: “being racist” or “being antiracist” – there is no between. I personally do not like this black and white definition, no pun intended, however, from many conversations with experts in the subject I have learned and accepted this fundamental truth.
- Introduce a top-level function driving the DE&I culture change. In small organizations, this might be the business owner/CEO, in larger companies it could become the responsibility of an officer or even warrant a full position within the leadership team.
- The leadership of the company/organization needs to engage in a process to become sustainably antiracist and advocate proactive antiracism throughout the organization. This is likely the most difficult step and it will take significant personal effort, time, and consistent repetition to manifest an antiracist mindset. Our behavior is 90% habitual hence existing habits will have to be changed and new ones need to be instituted to modify our actions.
- Once the top echelon is fully on board, the same process the education, training, exercises, and repetitive activities need to be extended to the remaining leadership levels of the organization. Once all leaders are in tune, the inclusion of the whole organization follows.
- On the foundation of antiracism, the features of diversity, equity, and inclusion will fall on fertile ground and grow vigorously. DE&I related training can then be introduced effectively and nurtured towards a cultural manifestation.
During my corporate career I have successfully led the implementation of safety and quality related programs towards a cultural manifestation throughout the respective organization. Based on these experiences it is my conviction that a sustainable DE&I culture is foremost a leadership issue and requires a similar implementation process.
I would like to quote the journalist and commentator David Brooks from an article he wrote 12/31/2020:
“So many of our hopes are based on the idea that the key to change is education. We can teach each other to be more informed and make better decisions. We can study social injustices and change our behavior to fight them.
But this was the year that showed that our models for how we change minds or change behavior are deeply flawed. It turns out that if you tell someone their facts are wrong, you don’t usually win them over; you just entrench false belief.
One of the most studied examples of this flawed model is racial diversity training. Over the last few decades, most large corporations and other institutions have begun racial diversity programs to combat the bias and racism pervasive in organizational life. The courses teach people about bias, they combat stereotypes, and they encourage people to assume the perspectives of others in disadvantaged groups.”
While these are implemented with the best intentions the traditional DEI training and knowledge dissemination will become far more effective and of lasting impact when packaged into a culture building process driven by the leadership of the organization.
Building a strong DEI culture in your organization will be challenging in many ways, yet, done successfully it will be greatly rewarding for all stakeholders involved!
Lead well, stay safe, and help your team to succeed! If you would like to explore additional ideas about effective leadership or business strategy let’s talk!