Building a culture of belonging is vital to the success of any organization. Efforts to make companies more diverse and more inclusive have a profound impact on shaping culture for the better.
But for most, the sudden changes to working environments due to COVID-19 have disrupted these efforts. Many leaders are trying to understand how to maintain the momentum of their diversity and inclusion programs, and how they can recalibrate to this new normal and even accelerate progress.
To help leaders and teams find success here, we invited industry luminaries Nicole Sanchez of Vaya Consulting and Ellen Pao of Project Include to join Range co-founder Jennifer Dennard for an online discussion (slides here). During this webinar, our speakers explored:
- The state of diversity and inclusion in the workplace
- The future of diversity at work
- Fostering inclusion
- Building on today’s momentum
Here are some of the highlights of what we learned over the course of the discussion.
A greater purpose fuels today’s diversity and inclusion efforts
Given all of what’s been happening in America today, it comes as no surprise that there is a renewed interest and focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. As Nicole sees it, we go through this every few years. However, one big difference this time around is that, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, champions for diversity and inclusion don’t have to spend as much time explaining and justifying the work they do.
I think people feel the pain of what it means to get it wrong inside their organizations. And they are either surprised or pleasantly relieved to find out that there are people who work on this full-time. —Nicole Sanchez
It’s because of the moment — this period in time where we’ve been more vigilantly focused on racial injustices — the conversation is landing differently with predominantly white leadership. But it’s not just them.
“I would also add that white employees are hearing it differently, too,” Ellen shared. “Not just the management, but the employees. And they’re speaking up.” As a result, management isn’t getting away with employing the same old tactics of donating money or making a statement. Employees are voicing their unhappiness, causing companies to look inward and fix their own issues.
Getting DEI right isn’t just going to happen on its own
For many of us, working from home every day of the week was thrust upon us. And not surprisingly, many of us — individuals, teams, and organizations — were not prepared. Some of our lives are just not set up for that. Some of our colleagues need to commute into a shared workspace to get work done, while some of us are thriving while working from home. With this in mind, Nicole notes that “As we figure out how to reassemble a workforce, we have to remember that nothing is automatically better.”
The other thing that’s going to happen is that as we hire people from parts of the country where the cost of living is lower — and that increases our racial and ethnic diversity — we have to remember to not reproduce redlining in our own companies. —Nicole Sanchez
There are a lot of things companies have to balance in the name of equity and inclusion if diversifying via a remote workforce is going to be a strategy. “It’s not simple, and we cannot assume our companies are going to be automatically good at it without putting the resources in.”
Jen, who wears many hats at Range, including people operations, has found it interesting to see the dialogue happening within many companies around equal pay for equal work. When we ask “How do you have a financially responsible balance sheet and pay people fairly?” we have to consider diversity and inclusion if we hope to come up with an equitable solution. They are not two separate topics and recognizing this reality changes how we approach the challenge.
How to build diversity into your hiring practices
For a long time, a lot of the dialogue around diversity and inclusion has been about finding ways to promote equal access and opportunity. While the dialogue today has shifted to “You’re either racist or anti-racist,” equality remains a top goal. As Jen points out, as companies work to develop programs that are anti-racist, some are running into legal constraints (i.e., establishing hiring quotas for individuals belonging to groups not well-represented within a company). So, she asked how companies can build diversity into the hiring process without running into legal trouble.
“There are a bunch of ways to do it that don’t run afoul of the law,” says Nicole, “and actually uphold the spirit of trying to diversify, especially around race and gender lines.” Here’s what she recommends starting:
- Get clear about your values and value proposition for diversity (i.e., identify what you hope to gain by diversifying that you couldn’t have otherwise had)
- Start with improving racial and ethnic diversity, as it’s the hardest for most companies, and once you get it right it becomes easier to attract folks
- Widen the definition of what “good” looks like for your company
You need support from the very top
Prioritizing and improving diversity and inclusion at your company is the responsibility of everyone. And yes, having an executive leader (a Chief Diversity Officer or Chief People Officer) specifically focused on DEI 100 percent of the time is important. However, at the end of the day, the person who is ultimately responsible for this work is the CEO.
At the end of the day, the person who is ultimately responsible for inclusion work is the CEO. And if the CEO is inclusive and cares, you will have an inclusive company. If the CEO has delegated because they don’t care, you will not have an inclusive company. —Ellen Pao
Employees look at how their CEO makes decisions. When bad behavior is overlooked and excuses are made, the importance and value placed on DEI is undermined, and it’s undermined from the very top.
Building on today’s momentum
While sheltering-in-place has caused us all to reevaluate how we approach our diversity and inclusion work while working remotely, America’s continued national focus on issues of race has generated momentum enough to enact long-lasting change within companies.
The response from the C-suite today on these issues is markedly different from what it was in the past. Not only are the voices of employees being heard, but their messages are landing differently with executive leadership. So how do you capitalize on that opportunity?
- Revisit the values of your company, and update them if necessary
- Stop focusing on growth regardless of the cost
- Establish committees focused on support diversity
- Push for changes to how your company recruits and interviews
- Consider how you can track D&I work as a business metric