I write this post six months into the global pandemic as our country and our team continue to grapple with the shocking contrasts that this period has laid bare in our society: people of color are dying from COVID-19 at an alarmingly higher rate than their peers; the stock market is soaring but families that were pursuing the American dream months ago are now standing in food lines; and the response to the protests sparked from the sobering acts of police brutality is not coming from our government, but from companies trying to step into the void to make an impact.
While clearly the situation is immensely challenging, I am also excited by the fact that organizations want to drive change. We are at a unique juncture in our society where silence is not an option, and it is empowering to see so many companies, teams and executives speaking out. My great hope is that this energy can be used to impact lasting change. But, I also have a healthy degree of skepticism because I know from experience just how hard this can be.
Having discussions around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace is tough. We’re still learning this ourselves. Many don’t know where to start and everyone has varying degrees of experience talking about race and inequality. That can be particularly difficult for people who are just now joining the conversation, and there is an implicit assumption that everyone should understand the nuances of DE&I -- that it is commonplace or common sense, but that notion is itself exclusionary and inhibits our ability to make progress.
At Beacon, our goal is to help our partners feel comfortable engaging in conversations about DE&I, and we think the best place to start is at the beginning.
What Does it All Mean?
- Diversity: Individuals aren’t diverse, but teams and organizations are. The composition of teams and organizations should mirror the different backgrounds and personalities we see in the world. Assuming individuals are singularly diverse suggests there is a ‘norm’. To say that someone who identifies as transgender is ‘diverse’ implies someone who is cisgender is inherently ‘normal’. It is true that ‘diverse’ has been used to describe members of underrepresented or historically marginalized communities. While we don’t believe individuals are diverse by design, we do recognize that there are systems and heuristics in the world that perpetuate the marginalization and underrepresentation of historically disenfranchised groups. We are not looking for ‘diverse talent’ but rather individuals who identify as underrepresented talent.
- Equity: An operating principle that helps distribute resources and opportunities equitably in an organization. By treating people equitably, we recognize that needs across different individuals and groups may differ. In a diverse organization, some groups or individuals are inherently less privileged or resourced than others due to circumstance. This means recognizing inherent inequities and resource gaps and ensuring that there are practices and processes that help address them.
- Inclusion: Diversity does not make the ecosystem inherently inclusive. Inclusion is ensuring that the psychological safety of each individual is protected and each individual feels seen. Without Inclusion, very similar to Equity, organizations may inherit processes and rituals that favor the needs and norms of a particular group or individual while ignoring the unique needs of others. Inclusion in the context of most DE&I programs is a focus on designing practices and rituals in which individuals feel valued and respected.
“Individuals aren’t diverse, but companies and teams are.”
Now that we have a base-level understanding of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, it is helpful to think about the initial steps we can take to put these principles into action.
Listening is Action
Following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, friends and colleagues of all kinds reached out to me; they took the time to listen, asked me how I was doing, and even weighed in with some perspective themselves -- to me, this was meaningful action.
The desire to take action is very human -- we see a problem we want to solve it. That comes from a good place, but it is the wrong tool to solve this problem. A lack of empathy and willingness to listen is the root cause of the many issues that drive us to focus on DE&I.
I have worked with so many teams (ours included) who struggle with this, so here is a helpful action plan for listening:
- Think like a facilitator: the best facilitators say the least amount of words. Their goal is to listen and solicit thoughts, feelings and feedback from others. This is an invaluable skill in so many business contexts, but particularly valuable here. Work across your organization to teach and model this skill to enable these conversations.
- Lean into discomfort: DE&I is a program designed to solve a problem. If the world was equitable and inclusive, we wouldn’t be having these conversations. Problems are hard to confront and solve, so anticipate discomfort. In fact, if you are experiencing discomfort it likely means you’re making progress.
- Practice ‘faith & grace’: we talk a lot about bias at Beacon, a common bias is the in-group/out-group bias. This is not limited to race, it applies to everyday groups like drivers and pedestrians. Accept that you will have many in/out groups at your organization and know that each individual must actively work to counteract this bias. Faith is what enables us to believe that people are doing what they understand is best for the organization, while grace allows us to disagree respectfully.
- Focusing on the individual: We can make organizational change by starting at the individual level. We need to have deep, intimate, and honest conversations with ourselves and each other about our individual experiences at work. This is how you identify trends of inequity, one conversation at a time.
Only then can we begin to think about implementing a DE&I ‘program’ and what the goals of that program ought to be.
Figure out your WHY
Addressing these problems is hard and requires sustained effort. The only way an organization can hope to sustain the level of effort and amount of time it will take to accomplish that effort is by having a very clear understanding of why it is important that your organization be diverse, equitable and inclusive. If a DE&I program is important within your organization simply because it is a relevant issue outside of your organization at the moment, there is a low probability of maintaining a sustained effort over time and achieving results.
Here is why DE&I is important to our organization:
- Innovation & growth: We are a for-profit business working with companies of all industries and all sizes across America. In order to earn the right to continue existing, we must continually adapt to the evolving needs of our customers and the communities we serve. A diversity of ideas and experiences is the engine of innovation and growth in our business. Our team needs to reflect that and we must build an inclusive culture that empowers that team to do their best work.
- Resilience: Over the past six months, resilience has taken on new meaning for myself and everyone on our team. We must build a resilient team capable of thriving in the uncertain environment that we are in. Diversity is resilience.
- Be the change we want to see in the world: Our mission is to change the world of talent and recruiting. It may take us 10, 20, 30 or more years to accomplish that mission, but when we arrive, that world will certainly be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive than it is today and we have the opportunity to make our business a mechanism to affect that change.
Focus on culture
A DE&I program or strategy is a vehicle on the path of changing the culture of an organization. A program should bridge communication, measure progress, and allocate resources and learnings in a concerted effort to effect change, but the change we seek is ultimately cultural change and evolution.
We like to think of culture as the combination of values and rituals held by an organization. As the cycle of listening and learning continues at your organization, it informs your why and provides a lens with which to reaxamine your own culture. Do our values and rituals promote or detract from solving the issues you’re surfacing?
As Beacon and I continue to work on the forefront of talent, we hope to use our perspectives and services to enable companies to reduce bias, remain resilient, innovative, and effect change at scale. While this work is tough and it sometimes feels like an uphill battle, it’s very necessary and it is our ‘why’.
What’s your ‘why’?