Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has taken center stage in recent years as companies realize their cooperation is no longer optional — it’s expected.
You know that DEI is important and you’ve already begun to head in the right direction, but the waters are muddy and missteps hit hard. While it’s tempting to take the easy road, this isn’t a long-term approach.
Employees are looking for a commitment to DEI in 2023, otherwise they’re three times more likely to leave a business. Taking small steps with minimal progress can contribute to DEI fatigue, or skepticism toward your DEI goals. This can cause employees to lose interest and disengage even before you’ve begun the hard work.
The only way forward is to start making bold moves. Here are three things to consider to supercharge your DEI efforts.
Less Carrot, More Stick
The phrase “carrot and stick” comes from working with donkeys, something most of us don’t do anymore. To get the donkey to work, are you going to tempt it with a carrot or hit it with a stick? It’s all about being prepared to take a hard stance.
Inviting people in is absolutely the right thing to do, however there’s also a space for consequences when people cross the line. There must be a combination of both celebrating and encouraging the positive but also making clear what isn’t okay.
Rather than using a generic statement like “no bullying,” it’s clearer to provide specific examples of unacceptable behavior, such as “homophobic comments are unacceptable.” This approach avoids ambiguity and creates a common understanding of what constitutes inappropriate conduct. Organizations dictate the rules of engagement, and it’s their responsibility to make sure their people can do their best work.
Nobody has all the answers, but the first step is to set codes of conduct that can evolve over time. Show your people constructive ways to engage in dialogue, to make them advocates for your DEI policies.
In Groups, Not Out Groups
A traditional DEI campaign aims to get the right amount of cultural representation by putting marginalized groups at the center. While it’s good to share the stories of those groups, there’s an unintended consequence: it can focus on what makes us different.
Racism works by creating in groups and out groups, with one that’s superior to the other. We should be building communities around what connects us. Calling out inappropriate behavior, while crucial, is very negative in isolation. In turn, celebrate the positive.
Get valuable insights from great approaches like The Guardian’s Dining Across the Divide feature, or the BBC series Crossing Divides, where individuals from diverse countries and political perspectives come together for meaningful conversations. In these instances, participants frequently discovered unexpected shared interests, highlighting the potential for greater common ground.
Next, make it easier for teams to connect by creating events that visually present their commonalities. A study by the charity British Future found that 62% of people agreed that major events unite those from different backgrounds.
Holding company-wide events can give a sense of community to a workplace where everyone feels included and represented. Whether that’s through music, fundraising or travel opportunities, the things that bring us together can connect us in a world that’s increasingly divisive.
The Rise and Need for DEI
As ESG (environmental social governance) becomes increasingly important for stakeholders, the strength of your code of conduct and how it is communicated becomes essential. ESG is a set of frameworks and policies that lay out how your business acts on certain issues, and DEI sits right at the center of your social impact. It can make or break your reputation, but also show the health of your business.
It’s not a new idea and some companies have already acted. TikTok hired its first head of D&I comms in December 2021 and Starbucks was forming LGBTQ+ partner groups in the mid-90s. However, this still seems to be the exception, not the rule.
That said, there has been explosive growth in the ESG and DEI space in recent years. According to ZoomInfo, there was a 113% increase in executives with DEI job titles between 2015 and 2020. This is important — businesses are actively starting to promote their DEI teams. Once you’ve got a DEI team, get them together in a room with your ethics and compliance team to establish clear codes of conduct that are simple, transparent and come from diverse viewpoints.
Spell It Out and Stick To It
Overall, if you say you don’t tolerate inappropriate behavior, spell it out. What are common bad behaviors to highlight and what are the consequences? Create guidelines for people to follow and productive ways to start the conversation with teammates — empower your people to speak up.
Once it’s written down, stick to it. This is an opportunity to showcase your value both to stakeholders and to wider society, and only those taking bold swings will stand out from the crowd.
It can feel scary, but having a clear code of conduct, building communities around commonality and actively promoting your DEI efforts will ultimately lead to much surer footing when wading through these muddy waters.
Russ Norton is director of client experience at scarlettabbott. With a focus on D&I, Russ speaks about making D&I a strategic priority, how to craft authentic D&I messaging and how to drive meaningful and lasting D&I change.