Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives have become top of mind for businesses. According to a PwC survey, three-quarters of organizations are investing in DEIB programs. “In doing so,” the report said, “they hope to not only drive higher engagement” with employees, customers, and investors “but enhance financial performance and enable innovation.”
It’s critical, however, that businesses not just talk about meeting DEIB goals but also actually do the work of creating and nurturing a community in which everyone feels safe, valued, and heard.
After all, nearly 80% of workers surveyed by CNBC said they want to work for a company that cherishes diversity, equity, and inclusion. And no one wants to do business any longer with a company that just doesn’t get it.
A diversity, equity, and inclusion manager’s prime focus is ensuring all employees understand DEIB—what it means, how it affects them, and why it matters.
The work has many moving parts—a DEIB plan should encompass all of a company’s leadership, stakeholders, and employees—and it needs to encompass sophisticated, highly empathetic thinking about factors that can promote or get in the way of DEIB.
Before putting pen to paper to draft a plan, it’s vital to keep three concepts in mind.
1. Remember That Diversity Is Not Binary
When we discuss diversity, we often liken and attach it only to race and ethnicity. When the concept is used within a business, it is regularly expressed as “We need to find a diverse employee,” which all too often is code for “We need to find an employee of color.”
This “binaryness” is, unfortunately, woven into the fabric of our society. Social media and media outlets hype up this simple division—one must be on “this side” or “that side.”
In fact, diversity is not one of two extremes; it’s all-encompassing. If the concept had historically been presented as a spectrum, in a similar way to autism, it probably wouldn’t be so simplistically understood. Beyond race and ethnicity, diversity also includes sexual orientation, personal space, tenure within an organization, how one feels within an organization, and much more.
Diversity also includes “intersectionality.” For example, a person can identify as part of the LGBTQ+ population and be a person of color and be conservative. (Gasp!) Yes, this is possible, and yes, one person could be all three. This may be alarming to some because the idea has been perpetuated for so long that one could only be “one or the other.”
2. Eliminate ‘Othering’
The concept of “othering” is tied to inclusion because othering is the idea of not being included. It is a stage at which microaggressions can develop, stereotypes are blown up, and other harmful effects can come into being.
Most people understand the concept, especially through school, of “the in crowd.” If they weren’t part of that crowd, they were “othered.” Some never had the opportunity to be part of the “in crowd” because of who they are, what they were when they were born, or how they self-identify. That is just a small taste of what it is to be othered just for being born a certain way.
The remedy for othering is to, first, make people aware of the concept. Bring them to understand how unconscious bias takes root. Talk about how unspoken invisible barriers have been erected by systems and processes over time that prevent certain people from being included or feeling a sense of belonging.
A company should aim to reduce and eliminate feelings of being othered. We can elevate productivity through inclusion and belonging. A company becomes successful to the degree that employees want to work there—and they will if they feel they belong and are included.
3. Value Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence involves understanding and controlling one’s emotions while being able to effectively communicate and understand others. The better people know themselves, the better they’ll understand how they relate to others and the better they’ll be able to work and lead. However, how emotional intelligence relates to DEIB is often ignored because people might have an aversion to discussing feelings at work, but this aversion is waning in this era of reignited social justice reform, as more companies are finding these discussions are critical to leadership and organizational success.
One of the pillars of emotional intelligence is psychological safety. Does a person feel safe enough to be his or her authentic self at work? This is where DEIB and emotional intelligence cross because it involves empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, self-control, and an understanding of how to relate to others.
If we’re going to learn to accept others despite the fact that their beliefs or lifestyles are vastly different from our own, then empathy plus self-awareness must be the cornerstone of emotional intelligence.
Putting a DEIB Plan into Action
By working through these concepts, a company may encounter varying degrees of acceptance to DEIB training. We all have different belief systems, so people will have various perspectives on being open to this concept.
Whenever I do an educational session, I always set working agreements at the beginning of the meeting. I point out that it’s OK for us to have personal beliefs and experiences that influence where we are today.
What’s not OK is when we use those beliefs to oppress or limit other people’s success because of who they are and how they self-identify. This idea comes from James Baldwin, one of the leading equal rights activists and writers of the 20th century, who said, “We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
Resistance can occur because of unconscious bias. It is called “unconscious” because we don’t know it’s happening. Think of it as the binary system creeping in; in this case, individuals are labeled either “good” or “bad” based on where they are in their own understanding. Having bias does not make a person bad; it makes a person human.
That said, when one becomes aware of bias, it’s now his or her responsibility to change it. DEIB initiatives should facilitate awareness; understanding; and, when necessary, change.
By keeping these three concepts in mind—recognition that diversity is not binary, othering is poisonous, and emotional intelligence is a key skill—organizations can build DEIB plans that are hard-wired to real truths. Those truths are necessary to move companies past mere conversation to substantive action for years to come.
Amy Hull is the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager at Paycor.