Speaker Charles Weathers started his breakout session with a story based on a popular cartoon. Three people of different heights are trying to watch a baseball game over a fence. The tallest person can see over the fence easily. The second person needs a box to stand on and the third cannot see over the fence even with a box. Equality is giving each person one box of the same height on which to stand. Equity is giving each person the number of boxes they individually need to see over the fence. The goal of inclusion is asking why the fence is there in the first place and removing it.
Understanding and removing barriers was a hot topic at the second annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DEI) Conference hosted last week by the Raleigh Chamber. The day was full of insightful speakers sharing their unique perspectives to answer the question ‘Is DEI in our DNA?’
The speakers and the research agree. Diversity is inherent in most organizations. The key to success is celebrating that diversity and unlocking its full potential through purposeful efforts. Organizations that can harness the power of DEI outperform their non-diverse peers by 21%.
How can organizations begin the process of removing barriers and encouraging true diversity? It may not be as intimidating as one would think.
Identify Barriers through Courageous Conversations
The first step towards removing barriers is listening to employees to identify barriers. “Every single person in your company wants to be heard,” said Dr. Joanna Schwartz. No matter how well managers think they know their staff, “our perspective is limited by our knowledge,” she explained. The more knowledge and perspectives you can gain from your staff, the better equipped you become at empowering them.
Remove Barriers in the Workplace
When it’s time to put your insights into action, start from the top. Make sure DEI efforts are a priority to the C-Suite and have the support of middle management. Train managers to have authentic conversations with their teams about more than just job performance. For example, Brandon Fargis with Red Hat shared that Red Hat has started incorporating mental health check-ins as part of one-on-one meetings. This gives employees the freedom to bring their full selves to work and fosters the high-trust environment that diversity needs to grow.
Employee Resource Groups can be a great way to foster diversity and inclusion on a group scale. Employees can connect with others who have similar experiences, backgrounds, interests, etc. and use group support as a platform to voice concerns or needs. Encourage and monitor participation as part of regular performance reviews. The important thing is not to strive for perfection; just try. Employees will respect an authentic effort.
How to Measure Success
As with any business activities, it is important to track progress and define metrics for success. Quantitative data can be as simple as staff and leadership composition, recruitment activities, or mobility. Combine these numbers with the qualitative data that carries the voice of your team. Distribute surveys or host focus groups. Conduct sentiment analyses and investigate themes of responses. Together, these paint a holistic picture of where your organization is and where it can go.
Encourage accountability by measuring participation and engagement in things such as Employee Resource Groups. Set goals and targets for diversity and inclusion at the director level and hold those individuals accountable for creating diverse and inclusive teams below them. Ensure the overall DEI strategy aligns with the larger business goals. As Cleon Umphrey with the RDU Airport Authority shared, “measure what you value, value what you measure.”
The value of diversity in organizations has been proven time and time again. As companies implement these tips and start their own DEI journeys, it strengthens not only their organizations, but the Triangle as a whole. For more resources on DEI, visit the Triangle DEI Alliance website.