There is no doubt that 2020 will be remembered mostly for a calamitous global pandemic.
However, as we all know, there were many other significant events and resulting awakenings that took place. One of them was the illumination of the issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In the past nine months, companies and organizations of all sizes and industries have started, re-engaged, or re-prioritized Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committees and working groups. In two of my professional associations, we started from scratch in an effort to educate ourselves, raise awareness, and create metrics for success moving forward.
While all three words are meaningful, it seems to me that a lot of discussion and action surrounds the first two – diversity and equity. Don’t get me wrong, the importance of assuaging the damage and pain done in these two areas is crucial for both healing and growth.
To that end, if we don’t engage in enable inclusion, then all the rhetoric and best intentions are for not.
Inclusion is defined as, “the practice or policy of including all people and groups in activities, organizations, political processes, etc.” I’d like to think of it as welcoming, inviting, empathetic, and accepting. It spans gender, race, faith, age, and physical ability.
It’s something that all businesses should not only embrace, but also assure that it becomes part of the culture. The failure of doing so will damage its reputation and render it an organization that no one will work for or do business with.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t about the specious term, “political correctness.” This is about right versus wrong; caring versus neglect; and good business versus bad business.
The biggest mistake a CEO can make on this issue is that they are already inclusive. Inclusivity is an ongoing process of growth. It requires clear metrics and monitoring. And there must be a top-down leadership commitment to not allowing indifference and lethargy to creep in.
Here are some areas where CEOs can seek out areas of improvement:
- How welcoming are you?
- Is your office space compliant with the physical needs of any current or potential employee?
- Do you and your employees address people in a way that they want (see the rise of the pronouns he/him and she/her in LinkedIn profiles as an example)?
- Does your communication system work well for everyone, regardless of ability and preference?
- Are new employees onboarded in a way that allows them to be welcomed by their co-workers?
- How do you hire and promote?
- Does your employment application or interview questions include any language or imply any bias?
- Do you automatically exclude (even if unconsciously) people because of their race, religion, gender, age, or physical appearance?
- Do you have a compensation package that is equitable for everyone?
- Do you promote solely based on merit and performance, or is the “good old boys network” still alive?
- How do people talk?
- Are insensitive jokes and banter allowed without correction or discipline?
- Everyone has the right to their personal views. Are these political and societal opinions allowed to be vented openly without awareness of how others may feel?
- Are micro-aggressions a conscious or unconscious part of the company culture?
Micro-aggressions are defined as – a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups.
- Inclusion in a Virtual World
- In many cases, we are no longer sitting or working next to someone. Do your employees feel engaged or neglected?
- Does every employee have the ability to work virtually without being concerned about personal cost or connectivity?
- Is everyone included in virtual meetings and – importantly – group events and team building?
I’ve worked with countless small and medium-sized business over three decades. There was a time when almost all of these questions might be scoffed at or discarded as “political correctness.” This was particularly true of male-dominated industries.
As a husband and a father of two women, I’ve been enlightened on the quandary of women in the workplace. Gender is only one segment of people who ‘ve not always felt or been included.
Over the past 10 years, a change in attitudes has started. That being said, we know there are still many businesses that through inaction encourage employees to act and speak in ways that are hurtful to others. We know that there are still companies that discriminate in hiring, promoting, and paying salaries. And we know that small business is more at risk than ever due to increased education and awareness.
In other words, those that strive to improve inclusivity will be lauded, and those that don’t may lose their reputations.
In the end, it always comes down to right versus wrong. We are dealing with humans who all share the same right to be treated fairly and with respect.
That means becoming more accepting of gender-neutral language and acknowledgment of sexual orientation and preference; being more empathetic and accommodating to those with physical disabilities; seeking to understand and accept the plight and needs of Black Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC); and not standing for micro-aggressions in the workplace.
Bottom line: Regardless of the size of your business, you can improve DEI in your company with a thoughtful plan. Engage your employees and create a simple working group to meet regularly on the topic. This group can brainstorm ideas, develop a plan of action, implement the plan, monitor success, and make appropriate changes.
By committing to consistent growth and development, your company will enhance its dedication to the employees, your business partners, and customers and clients.
In fact, if we all do it right, someday diversity, equity, and inclusion will become a part of the fabric of every company and community.
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