It’s been a few years since a flurry of CEOs pledged their organizations' commitment to do more in support of DEI. Thousands committed to actions that support a more inclusive workplace for employees, communities and society. Fast-forward to today, and it seems most organizations still haven’t made much progress. Why?
The short answer is that CEOs simply haven’t done the necessary work. They made the statements and expressed their support––but have they really done anything? A recent Culture Amp article notes that “now more than ever, organizations are beginning to recognize the urgency of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion,” yet “few have made meaningful progress beyond hiring some DEI staff and making small investments in programming.” Here’s why.
The reality is that if the CEO hasn’t made DEI a strategic initiative, the pledges they sign are just lip service. When an organization adopts a strategic initiative, it has an executive responsible for it, a budget assigned to it and measurements instituted that they have to meet. Unless an organization has made DEI a strategic initiative, the CEO hasn’t done the necessary work. I challenge any CEO to argue this point with me.
Recently, I had an opportunity to present research conducted by my organization’s think tank at the Annual Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Conference. In researching why so many organizations are failing to make progress on their DEI initiatives, we identified five key factors that drive DEI success.
5 key factors that drive DEI success:
- Mindsets of leaders
- Opportunities for talent
- Corporate policies and hidden bias
- Leaders’ inclusion behaviors and decisions
- Development of underrepresented talent’s leadership competencies
Cultural dynamics in the workplace is the interplay of the culture of an organization together with inclusive leadership. Understanding the dynamics is the catalyst for driving successful DEI initiatives that produce measurable business outcomes. For any CEO who truly wants to change their culture to be more inclusive, they must understand the underlying cultural dynamics at play in their own organization, acknowledge they exist and address them. Without the buy-in of leadership, and without addressing these key factors and the mindsets that drive them, they will likely never achieve their DEI goals. All the pledges in the world won’t solve their culture problems.
It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
A Human Capital Trends Special Report from Deloitte says that understanding the "ways workers and employers could engage is a fundamental need for leaders seeking to harness the workforce’s potential and thrive." Organizations must intentionally invest in and develop underrepresented talent, specifically with a focus on providing an equitable environment.
If you haven't done a cultural assessment, that's the first step. After all, if you don't understand how your employees experience the organization and whether their perspectives align with leadership, you'll never know how to measure the ROI of your DEI work. You must first understand how they see or don't see equity across your organization.
Next, you will need to evaluate whether leadership is committed and truly prepared to put in the necessary work required to build an inclusive culture. The results of your cultural assessment will help drive this step as it can tell you how your leaders are perceived by your employee base. Inclusive leadership is a competency that needs to be developed in all leaders. Take a look at how leaders behave with different employee groups, who they mentor, who they seek out for advice, who they assign to lead projects, etc. All of these behaviors can strongly influence the success of DEI initiatives. Provide guidance to leadership as to your expectations of how they can be seen as inclusive leaders. This step—with the support and buy-in of leadership—is critical to your DEI success.
Last, but certainly not least, assess the policies and procedures of the organization as well as the opportunities for talent. Level the playing field for employees by eliminating any hidden bias that may exist within the language of your corporate policies. The review and adjustments to these policies should be a priority. When looking across opportunities offered to your employees, it's important to confirm that there is equal opportunity afforded to all employees, regardless of their position within the organization. Too often I hear statements being made about the lack of available "diverse" talent to fill senior leadership roles. Develop your underrepresented talent's leadership competencies and you will reap the benefits.
Now that you know what to do, it’s time to deliver on those DEI pledges.
This article was originally written for the Forbes Human Resources Council, and published on the Forbes website in August 2022. You can see Kelly Lockwood Primus' other Forbes articles on her author page.