The cultural repercussions of a racialized epidemic have recently rekindled interest in DEI spaces. Such attention has created new opportunities for people to become “DEI specialists,” as well as new avenues for underrepresented groups to enter positions of power and perceived influence. All DEI roles worldwide increased by 71% between 2015 and 2020, according to LinkedIn data. More than twice as many persons now hold the title “head of diversity” globally (107 percent growth).
Despite this expansion, little has changed in terms of the power structure in these areas, which continues to be dominated by the C-suite (which is statistically less diverse) and frequently includes groups with less familiarity with research in the DEI field. According to Gartner, a technology research and consulting firm, Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color (BIPOC) make up barely 17% of the C-suite, and less than 1% of Fortune 500 CEOs publicly identify as LGBTQ+.
When those in these positions of power refuse to actively participate in corporate DEI training, which frequently results in a wasted chance to develop a deeper awareness of the problems affecting underrepresented peoples, this power imbalance is made even more pronounced.
Prior to being hired as the director of the RAND Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy (CAREP), I was actively involved with the advocacy group #BlackandBrilliant as part of my academic work in the field of diversity and inclusion. One of the challenges of the C-suite paradox, according to Ronnell Rock, managing director of Brand Apostles, is “building and maintaining diverse pipelines for hiring, holding everyone accountable for building sustainable infrastructure, devoting leveraged energy to the mission, and achieving measurable outcomes,” she said in a conversation we had on LinkedIn in 2020 as part of a series on “Breaking through the Middle.”
As a result of these discussions, I began to consider what it means to be a “expert” in the DEI field, who gets to make that judgement, and how these people may most effectively establish a DEI framework within organisations and enterprises that reinvent power and positionality in fair ways.
Here are seven methods for creating a DEI programme that is more equitable:
1. FOLLOW AN EQUITY-CENTERED DESIGN PLAN
In order to provide diverse populations a voice in developing and implementing remedies to the current injustice, this method is known as equity-centered design. Equity is a result of attention and intention rather than chance. Equity-centered design lends itself well to education and learning, despite being a broad discipline that may be applied to various sorts of institutional environments. It also has applications for research design. It can also be used to rethink current hierarchies of power inside a company or organisation, such as advisory boards.
One illustration comes from my work at CAREP, where our equity-minded board members include public and private sector leaders who are wealthy in at least one of three key areas: crucial strategic guidance around community knowledge and advocacy, academic research and/or policy expertise, and pertinent philanthropic experience that will help to meet the goals of racial equity research and policy analysis at RAND.
2. COLLABORATE WITH REPUTABLE MESSAGERS
While a thriving consultancy industry has emerged to assist businesses in achieving their DEI objectives, they frequently ignore the perspectives of the communities whose interests their work is meant to benefit. Partnering with reputable messengers from underrepresented communities is an act of economic and social justice for corporations that want to pursue DEI, not of altruism or benevolence. Building up trustworthy messengers requires patience, attentive listening, and humility. To make people feel involved in the conversation, this entails giving up some control. It is significant to emphasise that it will take time to give people in some places the impression that they are participating in the discourse because of access issues. Making safe and courageous environments where people may express their understanding of DEI without fear of repercussions and promoting growth at all organisational levels is one tactic I would suggest. This entails purposefully facilitating unpleasant interactions. Here are some methods for fostering trust:
- Engage in talks with community stakeholders that touch on the culture and stakeholders of your business; encourage both community members and staff to regular conversations that foster feedback, suggestions, and opinions.
- Don’t be afraid to structure conversations; state who gets to talk when, for how long, and what subjects are “off-limits,” and assign roles, points of view, queries, or themes beforehand.
- Let analysis and thought lead the debate rather than emotion. The goal of discussion is to exchange ideas rather than persuade everyone to share a single point of view. Instead of presuming there are just two or three potential points of view on any topic, take into account where and how reasonable disagreement can exist and give people time to build on one another’s ideas.
By including trusted messengers, we may emphasis this work on effective organisational and systemic change rather than the flimsy justifications for DEI that businesses can claim.
3. OFFER OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEI LEARNING
An organisation cannot be changed by one person. To actually have an organisational influence, you need a group of people who have been trained in DEI environments. Recognizing that people will be at different points in their journeys is also essential. That’s alright. You cannot assume that everyone will be in the same area. To ensure that DEI learning opportunities extend throughout your organisation, you must adopt a progressive, continuing strategy. I have created learning opportunities at CAREP that are aimed at various knowledge levels in the area of racial fairness (introductory, intermediate, and advanced). It should be a continuous process. Nobody could possibly be in the know regarding DEI. Things change, vocabulary broadens, and DEI-related problems develop. You must construct a dynamic, not static, structure if you don’t want to fall behind.
4. BUILD WELLBEING INTO DEI
De-stigmatizing mental health breaks and demonstrating appropriate work/life boundaries can be accomplished by setting an example for good business norms and procedures. Finding mentors or sponsors who can assist with balancing personal, professional, and (if applicable) spiritual requirements may be encouraged as a result. Or it might resemble a corporate-wide programme for a good work-life balance. At the systemic level of the organisation, this might entail giving self-care days a higher priority, implementing more comprehensive holistic health initiatives that address racial fatigue and trauma, and integrating necessary well-being and self-care components into leadership and employee competencies.
5. TRANSITION TO INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE
Leave out phrases like “diversity hires” in your language. A excellent starting step is to do a detailed examination of the culture of your firm, employee experiences within that culture, and stakeholder experiences. Language is a function of culture, thus how we use language to describe DEI matters. To generate inclusive language, one tactic is to compile a list of words and ask stakeholders to contribute meanings. To agree terms, leadership might then jointly assemble working groups. It would be crucial that these groups include of individuals from various organisational levels, and that the leadership of these subgroups includes individuals from various organisational levels. By doing this, you demonstrate a deliberate recognition of any power dynamics at work in the organisation and give more stakeholders at your business a stake in the definitions. Make sure you acknowledge and honour everyone who participated in the process as part of it, not just the people who stayed involved the entire time. Even though DEI engagement is patchy, everyone’s efforts important.
6. Examine written versus executable commitments.
Examining the expressed and inferred “why” your organisation chose to take on this assignment would include doing this. It also entails keeping an eye on how your company strategically fills up any identified gaps and blind spots. If you want to know whether a project is based on ideas like “competition, innovation, profit” or ones like “collaboration, inclusion, and active listening,” for instance, you may read the materials and listen to the leadership. You should consider the authenticity of the art in that place critically if the former justifications prevail over the latter ones. Committing to diversity and inclusion in the name of “profit margins” pales in comparison to the geopolitical climate in which marginalised groups are actually being attacked.
7. SET UP CONTINUOUS CHECKS AND BALANCES
Everyone in the DEI organisational process, from the C-suite to entry-level employees, may be held accountable by adding continual checks and balances at all levels. Because I frequently come across exclusions for middle management and the C-suite, it is crucial to repeat that all tales must be included in these discussions and training. The DEI loop is disrupted when this occurs. It is vital to ensure that all levels of leadership are held to the same standards as employees because rules in these areas are frequently created at the top. We all need to “remain focused beyond the moment to assure movement,” as Ronnell Rock once told me. I would go one step further than that: We can only make really egalitarian workplaces when we begin to unravel our diverse life experiences and behaviours, which happens when we start to take a close look at them.
Rhianna C. Rogers is a policy researcher for the nonprofit, neutral RAND Corporation and the Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy’s first director. Rogers is an authority on cultural and ethnic studies, diversity education and intercultural competence, cultural mediation, and the design and execution of virtual exchange programmes.