By Carmen Morris
The world was presented with a plethora of lessons around diversity, equity and inclusion in 2020, with race equality being catapulted to the top of social, political and organizational conversations. Leaders and organizations were tasked to re-evaluate strategies to cement diversity and inclusion into corporate culture and value sets. Society demanded the meaningful design of authentic activity, to rid the workplace of structural inequalities, that affect the career chances of Black and Brown employees.
The reality for many an organization, is that cultivating an environment where all employees, regardless of background, are able to progress, means systemic change. However, activity to increase the rate of structural change has been, to date, lacklustre and ill-supported by a genuine authenticity to make it happen.
The shocking death of George Floyd, in May 2020, forced leadership to grapple with the issues coming out of the global Black Lives Matter protests, and seek to address structural barriers that fail Black and Brown employees.
As we embark upon a New Year, what lessons have been learned and how can organizational leaders develop much needed traction to support a sustainable commitment to diversity and inclusion, and ensure that Black lives truly do matter within the workplace? Here are 6 lessons that will help leadership develop a thriving diversity and inclusion program for 2021, and beyond.
1. Actions are a Priority
We’ve all heard all the rhetorical speeches, seen the Black squares and followed the social media accounts of large corporations in the immediate aftermath of the global protests against racism, in Spring 2020. Many of these reactions were knee-jerk and based upon a realisation that something had to be said to show solidarity with Black and Brown communities.
Public statements around diversity and inclusion are good, but not at the expense of having a realistic strategy in place to make necessary changes to secure it, in its fullness. Employees, and communities, need to feel that change is taking place and that change has to be authentic. In an era of dominant social media, where employees and customers value authenticity around social and people agendas, it is foolhardy to jump on the bandwagon of statement making and publicized empathy, without stating what you are actually doing, and keeping your audience informed about progress.
Organizational energy should be focused on getting strategy in place, rather than jumping the gun to align with a particular social concern, in order to show empathy with the issues affecting Black and Brown communities. Your audience will not forget your stated commitments, and remember that your words will be open to challenge, at any time in the future, whilst they reside in the press archives or on the internet.
2. Openness and Transparency
There is nowhere to hide. Remember that your employees already know the culture of your organization, and your clients and customers can probably hazard a good guess. That wonderful website, filled with images of smiling faces of Black and Brown people, beaming from ear to ear, actually pales into insignificance, when one looks at your leadership page, or does a quick search on Google, only to retrieve information that highlights the homogeneous nature of your business.
Be transparent. It is what you are working toward that counts. If you are embarking on an inclusive leadership recruitment campaign, let the world know about it. The idea that there are not enough suitably qualified Black professionals is being challenged on a daily basis. They are out there and can be part of your talent pipeline, if only your business would make it a priority to look for them.
There is a lot to learn about diversity, equity and inclusion, and organizations are at different stages of the journey. Be transparent and do not feign inclusion when it is not there. Your audience already knows about your level of inclusion. If they are not yet aware of your business print and social media is only a whisper away. Trust me. We live in the internet age.
3. Stop using Black Employees as an Elixir
Your Black employees need you to know that they are fed up with being tasked to ‘fix’ issues of racial inequality. It is not their issue to fix. It has been disturbing to note the ways in which many organizations have relied heavily upon their Black and Brown employees to develop the DEI agenda, without pay. In many ways, this is just another avenue through which Black employees are treated less favourably. Let us be clear once and for all. Black employees are not experts in this area.
Support your Black staff in a way that helps address microaggressions which may have suffered throughout their career lifespan, or their tenure within the organization. Ask them how you can better engage with them to deliver wellness support that they may require. Work with them to assess their needs and learn how they can be better supported within your ecosystem. At the operational and structural end of the spectrum, organizations should pay for expert diversity consultancy, just as the organization pays for consultancy to develop its efficacy in other areas.
4. Confirm Expertise and then Work With It
Finding an expert in diversity and inclusion is not an easy task. Many have entered the space during 2020, and it is often difficult to confirm the expertise of a diversity consultant or strategist, that is unknown to your business. Someone who has recently entered the space is probably not an expert so beware of those touting expertise or from a largely HR focused background.
You need a specialist so think of it like this. A ear, nose and throat surgeon and a cardiologist both work in the medical profession. But you would choose carefully which one you opted to go for, depending on your condition. An HR practitioner is not a DEI specialist.
Ask for references, look out the website etc and check them out on LinkedIn, and in other professional places. The space is becoming crowed by those who think that it is an easy gig, all about talking the talk to inform organisations about that which they may know very little about. Be warned. The 'bandwaggonists' are out there, and they may just be looking for you.
Once however, expertise has been confirmed, you must be willing to to listen to, and build a solid relationship with your consultant. Take their advice. It is built on years of practice, knowledge and skills in organizational change around inclusion.
Leadership must be able, and willing to put the advice into practice and make progress in this area, even if it appears to be a major upheaval of established practices and ways of working. No-one said it would be easy. Diversity and inclusion is about changing behaviours and mindsets, and updating organizational systems. Change is often uncomfortable, but ultimately, worthwhile for embedding diversity and inclusive practice into organizational culture.
5. Pay for Diversity Consulting
Since the global awakening of matters around race equality, there has been a marked increase in organizations seeking the professional services of Black and Brown consultants to help them solve their systemic process issues and, and strengthen their organizational resolve to develop inclusive programs.
Over the course of 2020, there has been an increase in organizations seeking to access diversity consultancy for free or low rates. If nothing else, this highlights the value, or lack thereof, that organizations place on diversity and inclusion and race equality. It is unacceptable to seek professional support, without a willingness to pay for it.
Moreover, it suggest that Black consultants are somehow less valuable than their white counterparts and therefore willing to provide support as a low paid gig, or as a favour to help the communities from which they come. This is racism and is exactly what many organisations claim they are seeking to solve.
6. Give Black Businesses A Break
Who are you working with? Yes, it does make a difference. Black businesses have been traditionally excluded from supply chains and this has fed into the systemic exclusion of communities of color. All that has to change
If you're talking inclusion then it means that you must seek to get rid of exclusion. Audit your procurement system. Ask yourself if there is any particular, or justifiable reason, why Black businesses are not part of your supply chain. Inclusion is about operating in inclusive ways, both internally and externally.
Supporting Black business is part of the inclusion agenda, not a tick box exercise through which organisations can enlist the support of Black and Brown communities, in order to prove that they 'really do care.' Building inclusive supply chains, and supporting partnership working with Black businesses, is a key part of how inclusive practice can evolve.
Note that every action around diversity and inclusion is part of leadership authenticity and commitment around the subject area. Remove every action that can be seen as disingenuous. Your employees, customers and other stakeholders will thank you.