In recent years, consumers and prospective employees have steadily raised the bar for businesses when it comes to the need to build a better world. Increasingly, consumers want to know that their money is going to socially conscious companies, and some of the most talented people in the workforce are showing us (in droves) that life is too short to spend working for employers who don’t value them for who they are. Meanwhile, evidence that organizations excel when they embrace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is clear.
Leaders in organizations across all industries realize that in the polarized world we live in, DEI is vitally important. But making a theoretical commitment to DEI and making a real impact in your organization’s work culture can be two very different things. Even the most passionate of passion projects can lose momentum over time without well-defined actions to fuel them.
So how can you ensure that your organization’s inclusion initiatives will succeed rather than fade into empty sentiments and wishful thinking? Here are three tough questions to ask to give your DEI efforts some traction.
1. What are we intentionally doing to create an inclusive workplace?
It’s important to recognize that there is a big difference between a work culture that frowns on blatantly exclusive acts — like overt racial discrimination — and one that makes behaving differently part of the company DNA. The absence of exclusive acts does not necessarily make a workplace inclusive. Successful inclusion efforts are proactive and intentional, and without that conscious intention to change people’s actions, there can be no substantive long-term impact. It’s wonderful to say that Black lives matter, but what are you doing to demonstrate that means something concrete within your organization?
2. How are we communicating our efforts and to whom?
As counterintuitive as it may seem, there are plenty of organizations out there that try to create a more inclusive environment yet don’t share that work with their employees and other stakeholders. There are multiple problems with that approach. When people don’t know what you’re doing to make things better, their default impression is that you’re not doing anything at all. Also, DEI is not a solo sport. It is, by definition, a kind of work best done in collaboration. If no one knows that DEI is an intentional focus for your business, no one will share their ideas with you. That sharing of diverse perspectives is a fundamental building block of an inclusive workplace.
3. Have we clearly tied our inclusion efforts to our overall strategy?
For your mission to have a sustainable impact, every single part of your business should be connected back to diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is a shame to see companies that fall short in this respect because they are missing out on the full potential that lies within DEI.
To begin conquering this common hurdle, start thinking about DEI from a variety of angles. How do your inclusion efforts impact how you talk to customers? How do they impact how you show up in your community? Have they changed the way you recruit, hire, and retain your employees? How do you choose and make your products or services and market them? When you connect all of these pieces to your inclusion work, it creates the kind of authenticity that you need to retain the best talent and to remain competitive in today’s marketplace.
Inclusion requires intention and action
Diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t just “nice to haves” for businesses today, and leaders need to recognize that all the good intentions in the world won’t have a lasting impact without distinct actions to move them forward. Inclusive language is wonderful, but actions speak louder. The leaders of the future are the ones who see inclusiveness as a core leadership value and success as irrevocably tied to diverse perspectives.
Deanna Singh is the author of Actions Speak Louder: A Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Inclusive Workplace (Portfolio, May 2022). Singh is a DEI leadership expert and the founder and chief change agent of Uplifting Impact, a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm that helps individual leaders and companies create inclusive workplaces.