2020 was an excruciatingly long year for most of us. The pandemic and remote work and e-learning and on and on and on. We pivoted like a dancer on pointe in The Nutcracker. We did our best. In most cases, we kept the lights on. We may have learned some new ways to do; things that will be an improvement over what we’ve done prior to a global upheaval like 2020 has been. It’s been both a hardship and an opportunity.
Once May 2020 came, and George Floyd was killed, most companies were given a wake-up call, not just by the news, but by their own people and clients. Especially those companies that had not yet tackled the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in any meaningful way. As a strategy firm that specializes in DEI strategies, we got calls to help in a hundred ways. Some companies didn’t know where to start the dialogue with employees. Some companies had no idea what their HR data would tell them about potential inequities in the workplace. And some companies, those that had done training in the past or had employee resource groups (ERGs), realized that their results didn’t indicate a real commitment to actual change.
So, now that companies want to do something, what should they do? Here is a basic framework for thinking about the ways in which you can engage actions that produce real results.
We put together a frame of reference for thinking about what companies are looking to accomplish with any work around diversity, equity, and inclusion:
Are you determining what your gaps are, building awareness that leads to systemic change, or at the point of measuring the results of your efforts? First, it’s important not to judge where you currently sit on this continuum. You can be just starting out or 20 years in and realize that there is more to be done. The key is to be brutally honest with yourselves about your current state. Most companies we have worked with do not know the answer to that right away. Leaders have to gather data and feedback from their teams and staff to really know how their people experience the culture. Also, know that this is not something that you accomplish in 12-18 months. This is a lifelong journey toward a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture. Goaling, measurement, and accountability is what will ultimately cause success, as with virtually any other business strategy.
It may sound hokey, but Simon Sinek was right: knowing your why is the most important thing you’ll do when you start changing. It’s even more important in the DEI space because your people are paying very close attention to these efforts. They want to understand if it’s lip service or authentic. They want to understand how it will affect them. They want to know you are truly committed to change and you as leaders are holding yourselves accountable. If you can articulate WHY you are embarking on DEI initiatives, not only will you get your teams to follow suit, you will automatically begin to change your culture for the better. Employees want to work for firms that do the right things. Full stop.
One of the trickiest things leaders struggle with is how to be transparent with their own people regarding the sensitive topics around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Do we put out policy statements? Will our people just think we are being performative? Will they understand we are trying to be substantive? This may seem obvious, but be honest with your employees. Publish the results of your surveys and other feedback. Engage teams in prioritizing what should change. Set goals and hold each other accountable to them. You cannot achieve systemic change without 1) engaging the voices of those most profoundly affected by inequity and exclusion and 2) holding those in power accountable to real change PERSONALLY. Transparency has a magically positive effect on both points. Your people do not need you to be perfect here; they need you to truly commit.
We all know what happens when you float through life with nothing more than great intentions. It’s amazing to express a commitment to greater levels of diversity in leadership, for example, but what is the goal? How will you create the result? How will you know if you succeeded? Too much of the work we have seen firms do around DEI has no relationship to real accountability or measurement. People have written entire books on how measuring results creates results. Most firms express commitment and aspirations, but never deliver real change. They also suffer the consequences of diverse talent that bleeds out, low morale levels, and substandard cultures. When you commit with accompanying metrics, you get better talent more easily and you keep them fully engaged. Your leaders make better decisions, and achieve better results. That is always worth it.
So, what will you commit to in 2021 that leads to a thriving culture? How will you know you have succeeded? When are you getting started? Let us know. And have an extraordinary year.
Trisha spent most of her career leading large, diverse teams as a partner with an Accounting and Advisory firm. She has worked with executives and their teams in dozens of Fortune 500 companies in the majority of states. She has also created enormous value for entrepreneurs, high growth companies, and aspiring start-ups. She left the corporate arena to light up the world of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And hence, Empowered was born.
Having made partner in a Big 4 accounting firm in 9 years, Trisha was charged with building thriving practices from scratch in 4 different regions of the country. Through laser-focused strategies and the ability to scale talent and service delivery quickly, she was able to create growth businesses that have expanded exponentially. The leaders she’s cultivated have gone on to be partners, CFOs, CEOs, and much more. She also spearheaded the DEI initiatives related to creating more diversity in hiring, development, and ultimately, leadership, in addition to ensuring a more inclusive workplace for women and diverse people for 16 years there.
With her own company, Empowered partners with leadership teams to create sustainable and measurable DEI results. Read more about Trisha and Empowered Leadership Cultivation, here.
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