DE&I Implementation – Good Intentions vs. Strategies that Drive Results
The vcfo team regularly meets with leaders to understand their business challenges and opportunities and how we can help to navigate them successfully. Our conversations are usually broad and focus on the why and how of their businesses. These interactions often lead to discussions about longer-term, more strategic issues like sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).
Corporate sustainability supports long-term business success and value creation. An expanded view includes how an organization approaches its environmental and societal impact in tandem with broader business objectives. In our What is ESG and Why is it Important post, we also embrace the 1987 Brundtland Report’s view of sustainability as meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
For both sustainability and DE&I, initially strong appetites for implementation can be followed by paralysis. This can stem from not knowing where to begin, concern that resources needed to make a real impact may not be available, or allowing short-term initiatives and issues to derail momentum.
The evidence overwhelmingly shows that diverse teams translate to better decisions, broader perspectives, fewer blind spots, and better results – all of which are ingredients for improved sustainability. Here, we examine the foundational issues of where to start and how to succeed in weaving DE&I into the fabric of one’s business and keeping the focus on it long-term.
Articulate Your Perspective and Values (and Compare to Your Actual Environment)
The natural first take of most leaders is that their organization doesn’t create or enable uneven playing fields. Expressing one’s DE&I perceptions and perspectives and then comparing them against real data may provide a comforting confirmation of this view. However, it could instead compel the organization to acknowledge that inequalities indeed exist within its walls.
Is your leadership team truly diverse? Does your company or brand appeal to a wide array of groups? Is your candidate pool diverse? Are diverse candidates staying, growing, advancing, and being recognized? Do compensation inequities exist across similar roles or key individual identifiers? These questions and others like them must be objectively evaluated to determine if DE&I issues are present, where they lie, and where to focus attention.
Set Clear Goals that Align with Your Market and Business Strategy
Instead of trying to copy what others have implemented, take ownership and accountability for what sustainability and DE&I mean for your business. In many cases, companies blend their point-of-view or position on diversity with their mission statement to convey its importance and priority. And because culture starts with leadership, senior leaders must also challenge their teams to view themselves and their functions through the lens of DE&I. Initial goals for DE&I could include:
- Objectively viewing the organization to understand where you are starting
- Beginning an education campaign to bring employees along on the journey
- Establishing a mentorship program for employees, especially those in underrepresented groups
- Committing to publishing and acting on DE&I results data and feedback regularly
- Setting meaningful targets for improvement in diversity metrics across the organization
Revisit Recruiting Processes
Recruiting processes should also be examined for any introductions of bias or exclusion. This includes areas of the organization’s website such as Careers and About Us pages, as well as job descriptions and postings. Steps may also need to be taken to make job applications more accessible and to widen the channels being used to advertise to and engage with prospective candidates. This post from SHRM on 8 Diversity Recruiting Mistakes points to other often-overlooked elements that commonly detract from DE&I objectives in recruiting, including specific candidate requirements and where talent is being sourced from.
Periodically Conduct Internal Pay Equity and Advancement Checks
Conducting internal pay equity checks can surface issues such as compensation inequities perpetuated by offers based on historical pay that candidates brought with them from previous employers. Organizations should go further to not just examine what employees are being paid for the work they’re performing today, but also how they are being prepared and supported for success moving forward – tracking and assessing the characteristics of promoted employees, being deliberate about providing development opportunities, and exposing employees to new initiatives where they can shine and learn new skills.
Deliver Tailored Training
Training on how to mitigate unconscious bias and promote cultural sensitivity can promote better connections with team members and improved client experiences. Positive behaviors include asking others how to properly pronounce their names, recognizing problematic language, using inclusive language, asking about preferred pronouns, and applying listening skills that discern what another individual is feeling.
Expand DE&I Beyond Employee Practices
DE&I shouldn’t be thought of solely as an employee issue, but rather as something that permeates all parts of the business. Bias, inequity, and exclusion can persist almost anywhere, including areas such as vendor selection, partner relationships, and product design and development.
In vendor selection processes, organizations should make their commitment to DE&I and their expectations surrounding it clear to potential providers. Working with organizations like the National Minority Supplier Development Council and groups working to ensure opportunities for other underrepresented groups can be extremely helpful in ensuring vendor inclusivity. Similarly, organizations should understand and be communicative about DE&I initiatives with partners they enter into business relationships with.
Supporting diversity and inclusivity in product design is also key. Diverse perspectives and approaches in product design and development help to surface opportunities for product expansion and evolution, uncover potential risks or problems, and generate better user experiences for more people. Additionally, inclusive product design can open new lines of revenue and profitability.
Review for Results
Putting programs and practices in place like those described above does not automatically mean an organization will achieve its DE&I objectives. As with most practices and processes, familiarity and continued application tend to produce better outcomes. To understand the results of your DE&I efforts, regularly go back to the previously established goals to assess progress and trends. Some questions that might be appropriate for your organization include;
- Has a policy of pay equity been implemented?
- Has the percentage of diverse candidates being recruited increased?
- Do leadership ranks now demonstrate more diversity?
- How do retention rates differ by demographic group?
- Has the makeup of vendors or business partners changed?
- What do customer satisfaction and employee surveys communicate bout DE&I?
DE&I is too important of an issue to let uncertainties about implementation keep you from moving forward. Not only is practicing DE&I the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do for business. A wide range of studies shows the relationship of strong organizational DE&I with strong financial performance and other positive outcomes. Is it time to elevate DE&I in your business?
Request a free consultation from a vcfo expert who can solidify your company’s DE&I initiatives. We have worked with more than 5,000 business teams in our 25+ years, would love to hear your story and concerns, and share how our experience and collective wisdom can help.