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Columbia Business Monthly

Inclusion Uncomplicated: Four Strategies to Make DEI Practical

Jan 27, 2022 04:46PM ● By Dr. Nika White

Every day, we hear that the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is complicated. Whether from businesses, employees, society in general, or the practitioners themselves. And the truth is — yes — DEI can be complicated because the issues of DEI are complex.

But they don’t have to be.

As we enter this new year, when so many continue to place great emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion, we must remember to lean into the practicality of the work. Let’s uncomplicate DEI so that we can sustain it. We can approach this work with a level of practicality if we act and communicate with the best practices and right mindsets. Start by addressing the perceived complexities of DEI and breaking them down into more manageable and less complicated bites. 

Here are 4 strategies to make DEI practical.     

1. Make it personal – the work of DEI starts at the personal level. Rather than continue to see the work of DEI as the responsibility of someone else, look inward and determine where do you have the influence to help facilitate equity, inclusion, and belonging. Know that inclusion starts with you. Individuals are the ones helping to create systems change, open doors of opportunity from an equity perspective, and help model inclusive behaviors. If we don’t get this at the personal level, then society – by way of organizations and institutions – is not going to be able to apply it. Within your sphere of influence, you can create change. A level of responsibility for DEI must be felt by all in a way that inspires some type of positive impact. Organizations must stop treating the work of DEI as the sole responsibility of the diversity officer, or HR professional, but rather as a mandate for every person in the organization. Regardless of your title, if you consider yourself a leader, or simply a person of influence, you must become inclusion-minded and begin to exercise intentionality in doing your part in creating an inclusive environment.

2. Build community – I encourage you to keep building out communal safe spaces for people to learn with and from each other by bravely sharing stories and perspectives. Let this community of support allow members to share stories around how they have actualized inclusion and equity; bravely introduce new thoughts, questions, and situations; ask questions, seek clarity on certain topics; practice listening to others’ experiences and learning; give and get support, and offer tools and strategies that have worked for them. The recipe for team talks may seem like a big process but it’s an intentional strategy to build a stronger, more resilient team. Engaging in meaningful conversations, even on difficult topics, is an essential part of a thriving team ecosystem. The more intentional you can be in building community, the more productive, inclusive, and powerful your team dialogues become.

3. Over-communicate with empathy and compassion - There’s no denying that empathy and compassion are both vital. Any time we find ourselves in a period where there’s so much uncertainty, we need to over-communicate. We must ensure that leaders and messengers on behalf of the company are thoughtful and considerate. There’s value in those leaders demonstrating vulnerability and sharing how they’re navigating and being impacted by complex social issues. This allows others to know that they’re not alone, and that moments of uncertainty abound. You must ensure you have a voice of authenticity, transparency, and truth. Authentic updates will be helpful and comforting in these times of uncertainty. Organizational leaders should think through and ask these questions:

Which different groups will be impacted by this decision and how?

Is there a way to create more equitable divisions of the impact?

Am I communicating any changes or shifts in an empathic and inclusive way?

Bottom line, keep asking strategic DEI questions at every point, and encourage other leaders to do the same.

4. Eliminate Process Bias – Biases aren’t solely in people, they’re also in processes and systems. Solving for DEI requires looking at systems, procedures, policies, and culture. Many different business processes — such as how you onboard employees, how you secure suppliers, how you recruit, or how you market — can be operated through the lens of DEI.  Take time to audit your processes and see where you may fall short in respect to DEI. Institutional discrimination and systematic lack of inclusion are big players in the conversation on DEI. Although individuals may hold biases, they’re ultimately reinforced by processes and systems that are inherently exclusive.

Part of fostering more inclusion in the workplace is running audits and assessments of your company’s culture, processes, and systems. By undergoing an audit, you can better understand how and why people are perpetuating exclusive and discriminatory behavior in the workplace. When you look underneath the hood, you’re able to see the institutional causes of exclusion and discrimination and work toward solving them. By repealing, reevaluating, and reimaging those structures, the organization can create more inclusive processes and systems that foster inclusion for years to come.

Times are intense, fast, and uncertain. But that doesn’t mean that our DEI efforts should be compromised. The theme of diversity, equity, and inclusion has dominated so much of our conversation, and the trends are not slowing down anytime soon. They will only grow more complex, so what’s the best way to stay on top of it?

The best way to stay on top of these DEI efforts is by simplifying them. Making DEI practical can help us get through this ever-changing landscape with confidence. Don’t let the perceived complexity of DEI keep you on the sidelines. DEI is not just a social responsibility. It is an economic imperative that drives innovation and helps businesses grow.

Dr. Nika White is president and CEO of Nika White Consulting and the author of “The Intentional Inclusionist” and “Next-Level Inclusionist: Transform Your Work and Yourself for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Success.”