Are your DEI initiative(s) focused on the “D”, the “E”, or the “I”? Did you know it makes a difference? What are the impacts?
Leading a comprehensive Human Resource Management (“HRM”), Organization Development (“OD”), and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (“DEI”) consultancy since 1995, I’ve recently heard statements related to DEI that lead me to understand that a profound nuance within the DEI profession may not be well known or understood.
This nuance, may in fact, account for why some DEI initiatives may effect conflict and dis-engagement, while others build engagement, collaboration, and greater levels of appreciation across diverse groups. It is important to recognize that every organization starts at a different place, created by different organizational philosophies and histories, leaders and their mindsets, vision and values, hiring and management practices, as well as challenges and opportunities.
A fundamental difference in the mindsets of DEI leaders and consultants.
- Many have focused on the “D.” This was the starting point for our current DEI or DEIB journey. This focus is on highlighting difference – how some are advantaged and others are disadvantaged. While perhaps not intended, this approach can result in silos and alienation of diverse groups against each other.
- Some have focused on the “E.” The mindset is a focus on leveling the playing field (financially, physically, or behaviorally) so that everyone is enabled to contribute to whatever degree is possible given their circumstances. We need to recognize that not everyone in a race is at the start line with the same readiness or abilities. The issues of privilege, access, and resources are deeply examined here. Organizations which only focus on the “E” may disengage those who may feel their hard work is being marginalized and that high performance should be recognized/rewarded.
- Others have focused on the “I.” This mindset focuses on appreciating/respecting differences and reducing conflict to spur collaboration, safety to interact with each other, inclusion, innovation and ultimately, team/organizational/community success.
1. You can have diversity without inclusion.
- In an organization with minimal diversity, individuals who represent diversity may face a difficult road to feel appreciated for their full selves. Some organizations still conduct assimilation programs to that in effect, reduce individuality.
- Significant diversity without inclusion may result in silos, high levels of conflict and employee disengagement.
2. You can have inclusion without diversity.
- Inclusion without diversity will result in limited outcomes given vast similarity of mindset or thought. Per a Forbes, April 29, 2019 article by Paolo Giordano, “people tend to see a need for inclusion when they’re deprived of it.”
- An organization planning a sizable geographic expansion that is lacking relevant diversity will likely stunt their success in understanding the marketplace, recruiting and retaining employees who will meaningfully ‘connect’ with diverse customers, and then grasping and delivering desired products or service needs.
3. You can have diversity with inclusion.
- People in the organization recognize their ability to be their full selves and responsibility to fully contribute to the team even when it means raising issues some may not want to hear.
- Collaboration and teaming is abundant. People consistently question ‘who is missing from this conversation’ to ensure that all relevant voices are heard.
When DEI work is focused on ‘the D’ (Diversity), curriculum is centered on differences.
On one hand, it examines and creates understanding as to whether or why I’ve had an easy or tough time during my life. It can effect employees experiencing frequent or significant conflict or feeling they are contributing minimally unable to do their best work. It may also result in employees feeling ‘small’ or disengaging. At the same time, it may remind you of someone who exhibited humility and was compassionate to you or someone who delivered arrogance and/or injurious personal insults or assaults. Minimal diversity in an organization may result in individuals who represent diversity, facing a difficult path to feel appreciated or embraced for being their full selves. For many years, while individuals who reflect diversity (most typically, women and People of Color) were recruited and hired for their diversity, the assimilation process into the organization was focused on helping new employees to learn to act like the rest of the organization rather than bringing the full value of the diverse perspectives or abilities to the workplace.
Questions that typically emerge in D-focused organizations include:
- How am I included here?
- How can I feel heard?
- How can I better experience this culture?
- Am I being excluded because I am different?
- How can I bring my full self to this workplace?
- How can I connect with others who may share my experience?
- What can I expect from those who are like me and who have found a way to flourish to help me do the same?
When DEI work is focused on ‘the I’ (Inclusion), curriculum is centered on learning how to be inclusive (respecting and appreciating differences, ensuring diverse voices are heard, and appreciating differences to achieve greater solutions/innovations) and feeling included where you can bring your full self to the workplace and perform to the best of your ability.
That said, depending on the goals and existing environment of an organization, more than one of the DEI focus areas may be appropriate. A primary focus on Inclusion will strengthen the organization without harm. An assessment by an adept DEI professional can help determine what level of “D” and “E” infusion will be help strengthen and unify the organization.
Our ‘I-focused’ definitions:
- Diversity is defined as the vast array of human and organizational differences including, but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation/affiliation, age, socio-economic status, marital or family status, educational level and institution, physical ability or attributes, beliefs, religious or ethical values systems, national origin, as well as roles, hierarchy and level of organizational influence… it is inclusive of everyone.
- Equity ensures that everyone has access to what they need to do their best work. It acknowledges there are historical and current imbalances in, and barriers to, opportunities for social identity groups and works to eliminate them (e.g. Individuals with disabilities being provided with workplace accommodations to support their hearing, visual and mobile abilities, etc. Individuals with financial hardships being provided with scholarships to complete higher education. Onsite work environments and offsite events ensure all employees’ physical and emotional safety. Family leave, child care benefits, and flexible work arrangements for those with young children as well as for elder care responsibilities.)
- Inclusion puts the concepts and understandings of diversity into action by creating environments of involvement, safety, connection, respect, and collaboration including a sense of belonging, being valued and respected for who you are, and supported by your managers and colleagues so that you can do your best work.
Inclusion is for everyone. In essence, a focus on Inclusion capitalizes on diversity of experience and perspective to spur:
- greater innovation;
- talent magnetism;
- higher customer loyalty; and
- individual, team, organizational, and community wellbeing.
The Human Resource Consortium, LLC has a stellar track record of guiding successful DEI initiatives in Fortune 500s as well as in rapid growth mid-caps, nonprofits, and governmental services across most sectors in the Northeast. We firmly believe DEI is an important methodology to unify… not divide… people and organizations utilizing a mindset of Inclusion.
Our DEI & Collaboration Practice Leader, Yvonne Alverio, has been with our firm for over 25 years. We are incredibly blessed by all that she is and all that she brings to our team and clients.