Founder and Chief Culture Officer of Ideal resultsInc. Author of the new book “Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership.”
Ask almost any business leader and they’ll tell you they place a high priority on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). There’s probably a nicely designed DEI statement on the company website describing the company’s position, and maybe even a DEI course for employees.
But the reality, both in the office and on the factory floor, often fails to deliver on the promise – a situation that has been brought into sharper focus by the Covid-19 pandemic. Significant differences exist in the work experiences of employees of different genders, races and sexual orientations. For example:
• A Gallup Survey found that 75% of black workers who were discriminated against said it was due to their race, compared to 42% of white workers.
• Another Gallup Survey found that only “17% of LGBT employees strongly agree that their organization cares about their well-being” are honest or will do the right thing on ethical or integrity issues — at least 10 percentage points lower than other employees.
• Among working women in the US and Canada, 62% reported experiencing stress the day before – “10 percentage points higher than working men and a significant increase from 2019 levels (51%).”
Out of sight but not out of mind
The transition to remote and hybrid working has highlighted the challenges of DEI in the workplace. Prior to the pandemic, the absence of a person’s physical presence in the office caused leaders to overlook their contributions and aspirations. There is now a greater recognition of this gap and a greater appreciation for remote workers who are just as productive as – and often more productive than – their colleagues in the office. Anecdotally, however, “proximity bias” still exists, where employees are judged more favorably by their leaders if they respond positively to suggestions to return to the office.
Managers can learn from the unique experience of working through the Covid-19 pandemic and use all available tech tools to keep remote workers informed and applaud their efforts. Other helpful practices include regularly asking for feedback to ensure team members’ needs are met, as well as organizing both online and—perhaps most importantly—internal social gatherings. Humans need that kind of contact.
Remote Work Rewards
Overall, however, the introduction of telecommuting has had the positive effect of increasing flexible work models and a consequent boost to diversity. A research conducted by Future ForumSlack’s research consortium found that 88% of Asian/Asian-American workers, 81% of Hispanic/Latin workers, and 83% of black workers wanted more flexibility, compared to 79% of white workers.
The reality of remote/hybrid work means you can hire by talent first and then on location. You can therefore extend the search beyond your office zip code and tap into talent you would never have discovered before, including minorities and individuals with physical disabilities. The playing field has been leveled and smart employers will benefit.
A work in progress
As mentioned, there is a good chance that your organization has a DEI letter of intent on its website and has made its position known through a press release or other media. You may have prepared a detailed best practices report and/or initiated DEI workshops for your employees. You may have even hired an outside culture change consultant to lead them. That’s good, as far as it goes.
But has all the business brainstorming and clever wordsmithing become a reality? Fine words and one-day training classes cannot solve a broken culture with DEI problems. There is no quick fix – it is an ongoing process that not only requires a series of training, facilitated by experienced culture change consultants, but also to be experienced on a daily basis within the company, with leaders leading by example in the way they hire and engage with employees.
Organizing a company’s DEI initiatives is more challenging than ever. While the demand for Chief Diversity Officers is skyrocketing, their average tenure is less than two years. For example, between 2018 and 2021”60% of diversity officers at the S&P 500, companies have exited their positions.” It’s quite likely a reflection of the challenges they face, because instead of becoming transformational leaders, they are often reduced to mere figureheads with little real authority.
Questions to ask
In the transition to a meaningful DEI initiative, here are some questions to ask yourself as a leader.
• What DEI issues have we encountered? (Often a company doesn’t realize it has a problem until a crisis unfolds.)
• What have we done to correct them?
• What other problems are there? What should we do to correct them?
• Are we prepared to make fundamental changes? Do we have a genuine commitment to do what it takes?
• Are we going to use experienced cultural change consultants or are we trying to do it alone?
• How will we measure the impact of our changes?
• How do we maintain our new work environment?
Improving DEI is not a one day task, it is what needs to be done day after day. And the benefits are significant. According to Korn FerryNumerous studies show that companies that embrace DEI are 70% more likely to conquer new markets and 75% more likely to turn ideas into production. Companies with above-average diversity show 19% higher innovation revenues and make better decisions 87% of the time.
The work can be challenging at times, but the rewards—both for the company and for your employee culture—are well worth the effort.