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Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a stated value for many companies, but making meaningful changes to support DEI often proves more difficult than simply claiming it as important. Below are five meaningful ways to support DEI in any organization.
1. Educate yourself and take personal inventory.
Power dynamics in organizations most often mimic power dynamics found in the surrounding culture. This can make these dynamics difficult to see, especially for those who hold the power and benefit from the status quo. To really be an ally to people of color, women and LGBTQ+ folks, understanding and respecting their experiences as well as the history that led to the current unbalanced power structures is necessary. It’s also important to take a personal inventory of your own biases so that you can actively work against them in favor of equity and inclusion.
2. Don’t speak in rhetoric.
Getting lost in political rhetoric is an easy trap for anyone to fall into when discussing and implementing DEI. However, this kind of talk is empty at best and breeds miscommunication and misunderstanding at worst. When speaking about diversity and inclusion, it’s important to keep the conversation real, immediate and practical, focusing on understanding multiple points of view. When a disagreement arises, take the time to let each person speak, listening actively and asking questions for clarification. We’re all human, and while we have different experiences both personally and structurally within our culture, common understanding and compassion can almost always be found if we’re open to finding it.
3. Actively advocate for and value diversity, equity and inclusion.
It’s one thing to say we value DEI, but it’s entirely another thing to actually value it. If your company is implementing DEI programs out of fear of being canceled due to pressure from consumers or just simply to look good, chances are the actions you take to address inequality and homogeny in the company’s culture won’t have a very meaningful impact. Actively advocating for and valuing DEI means seeking out diverse leadership; providing opportunities for promotion, intentional and equitable compensation practices; seeking out the opinions of minority populations; developing minority populations for advancement; and diligently becoming aware of non-intentional disrespectful communication. This means being open-minded, open-hearted and humble and thinking creatively about how to be inclusive and step outside of dominant habits and patterns.
4. Create a safe and accountable culture.
Creating safety and accountability within a company culture means doing away with punitive practices in favor of supportive ones. An accountable culture is one in which team members are encouraged to learn from their mistakes and make adjustments going forward, rather than be punished for them. A safe culture is also one in which team members can speak up when they don’t feel heard, seen or safe, and will know that they’re valued by the rest of the team, including leadership. Creating a safe culture begins with executives and managers having the courage to openly share their mistakes and learning with the rest of the organization, thereby creating a true speak-up culture backed by ownership, learning and dedication to improvement.
5. Prioritize your values over your worries and doubts.
In an interview I did last year with Mazin Jamal, a leadership team harmonizer, he made the great point that to really make a change, we must prioritize our values over our fears. While implementing DEI programs might sound easy or simple, it can actually be quite radical, as implementing these values well involves overturning hundreds of years of embedded conditioning and power structures. Whenever we attempt something new, worries and doubts are bound to occupy our thoughts. For example, we might wonder if we’re doing it wrong, if we will negatively impact performance or profits or how we will respond to negative reactions from shareholders or customers. Honoring our values and making the changes to uphold them with integrity requires courage and a true sense of purpose. It’s through our purpose and vision that we find strength when worries or concerns surface to make a meaningful difference beyond lip service and empty promises.
While implementing meaningful DEI practices might require more thoughtfulness, education and courage than the average leader originally intended, it’s always worth the effort. Not only will it support communities of people who have been under-served, under-represented and oftentimes overtly kept from positions of power, it will also greatly benefit any business that takes it on in a meaningful way. Just like a natural ecosystem, the more diversity a company can have, the stronger and healthier it will be, the more customers it will be able to reach and the greater impact it will have.
To learn more about creating safety and accountability in an organization, check out my book Creating the Accountable Organization: A Practical Guide to Improve Performance Execution.
This article was first published as a Forbes Coaches Council Post.