While societal issues of racism, prejudice, and bias have always been urgent and are not new, recent events continue to magnify their prevalence and the associated need for continued education to drive positive change – in both society and the workplace. The reality of how inequality affects all of us has underscored how important it is that we continue to embrace diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and all forms of belonging on a daily basis. This means the need to have Chief DEI Officers will not wane anytime soon; in fact, in the past few years, we have seen a rampant increase in the number of corporations scrambling to either create new DEI positions or making the decision to elevate existing positions and expand their teams. However, the requisition of a DEI professional doesn’t necessarily mean the success of that position will be supported by the organization. So how do you move beyond fulfilling a“tick the box”DEI requirement to asserting your ability to impact organizational change?
Most DEI professionals will tell you there is no quick fix to remedy the issues we continue to see; however, there are various methods and tools to help initiate change. One of these tools is conversation. We must be willing to have difficult and honest conversations, and ask each other and ourselves how we can surpass seeing what is wrong to do what is right. As a DEI leader, it is your job to note who is “at the table” and focus efforts to not only construct but maintain a new table where all parties have both a seat and a voice. This process starts with building self- awareness and trust throughout the organization. Asking the right questions provides a useful starting point by highlighting what needs to be addressed while simultaneously developing a support system for your DEI work at all levels.
People typically live in homogenous areas and move in homogenous circles. Although we sometimes lack diversity where we live and within our social networks, it may often be most present in where we work. Encourage employees to expand these circles to broaden their perspectives. Continue to challenge your leaders to ask themselves how they can be more self-aware. Provide a safe environment where they can receive guidance to be curious and bravely ask others about their experiences – it’s amazing what you learn when you take the time to ask questions then listen. That’s why relationship building is imperative to effectively coach leaders, and establish expectations for them to have more courageous conversations about race or any other topic that stretches them beyond their comfort zone. These conversations can uncover trends relative to an organization’s hiring, selection, promotion and retention needs.
Reinforce the importance of showing genuine interest to learn about other races, genders, and cultures and facilitate individual connection. Prompting the exploration of current realities and viewpoints is a critical step to form the baseline for conversations about diversity. True diversity and inclusion can only be sustained by taking [meaningful] steps to understand the structural mix of perspectives and experiences. This understanding begins with recognizing the interconnectivity of employee perceptions and organizational systems, and enables you to identify and address the gaps that may be preventing systemic equity.
As a DEI leader, it is your job
to note who is “at the table”
and focus efforts to not only
construct but maintain a new
table where all parties have both
a seat and a voice
Lastly, remind everyone to be forgiving—We all make mistakes, so help others assume positive intent and give grace to someone who does not “get it right” the first time. This is integral to articulating individual viewpoints, and learning into difficult conversations as a way to grow and build stronger relationships.
Erica J. Bolden is a senior DEI executive with over 20 years of experience implementing global communications, social responsibility, change management and training strategies. She is currently the Head of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and People Analytics at Mercedes-Benz USA where she directs DEI strategies and people data analytics for Mercedes-Benz Group AG’s U.S. and Canada markets.