So, here we are...roughly three years after the news of COVID-19 stopped us ALL in our tracks and changed life as we knew it. COVID exposed the stability (or lack thereof) of several aspects of our lives -- our healthcare system reeled under the pressure of staff shortages, burnout and PPE deficiencies. Organizations learned that in some parts of their workforce, remote work actually....well, WORKED. We also learned about the impact and importance of our supply chain on the food, automotive and technology industries.
During the pandemic (spurred by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd) we also saw significant increases in commitments from corporate America to address the racial reckoning. Some companies made PR statements and social media posts condemning racism and pledging to work towards greater diversity and inclusion in their workplaces. Others organizations took a more concrete approach by launching diversity and inclusion initiatives, hiring Chief Diversity Officers and supporting teams, implementing leadership development programs and making donations to organizations that support racial justice. And a subset of companies were criticized for not taking strong enough action in response to calls for greater equity and justice.
Now, in this post-pandemic era, the question around how impactful these corporate commitments were is looming. Is it making a difference? Are the new DEI teams empowered to create lasting change? Are the unconscious bias trainings leading to actual change in behaviors? The answers to these questions are a bit of a grey area.
In my experience and observations, the organizations that are creating anything close to impact in their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts have three things in common:
They are not perfect and don't claim to be -- however, they are courageous and transparent enough to tell a compelling story about the work that they HAVE done.
Internally, leaders within these organizations are authentic about the work that still needs to be done and supports policies that creates equity for underrepresented groups. Perhaps most importantly, leaders at these companies are not afraid to learn (and unlearn) new behaviors AND apologize correctly when they get it wrong.
Impactful organizations have been able to translate their values into accountability and action.
We've all seen companies that tout lofty values but their policies, employee experience and hiring practices consistently say otherwise. Organizations that have demonstrated impact in inclusion have learned how to evolve their commitments into leadership accountability (i.e. connecting bonus structure to equity milestones) and ways to create a culture of allyship and action from DEI learning and development curriculums.
They create an ecosystem of 360 feedback (often) and use that data to continuously iterate their best practices.
Giving and receiving feedback is the cornerstone to inclusion and allyship. How can we champion another person if we don't know what they need? How can we ensure that our teams are equitable and performing at their best if we don't know where the possibilities for improvement? How can we utilize curiosity as a competency for inclusion if there isn't enough psychological safety to ask the right questions? My opinion is that organizations that aren't afraid to implement strong feedback mechanisms and actual action stemming from that data are more likely to value inclusion and belonging in their workforce.
It's safe to say that there is more work to be done in this area. There must be a healthy attitude of humility, authenticity, being comfortable with discomfort and willingness to disrupt our own biases. In this post-pandemic era, equity is evolving still, with conversations around remote work/return to office, "diversity fatigue," the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting. The fact still remains -- we must continue to do the work. We may not be able to completely eliminate bias but we must continue to find ways to provide resources, policies and tactics to level the playing field and overcome the barriers to inclusion.