Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
Employees living within sites of oppression quickly discover which organizations use diversity, equity, and inclusion as recruitment tools and which organizations are engaging in anti-oppression work. To keep up with legal and cultural standards, most businesses have public hiring statements or press releases announcing their “commitment” to DEI. However, many still tokenize women, People of Color, and Queer or Disabled employees.
On the other hand, organizations that actively pursue diversity, equity, and inclusion take three crucial practices into account to ensure anti-oppression work occurs at every level and workstream: 1) having leadership that honors the realities of their marginalized employees and which institutes policies that disrupt inequity; 2) using cross-functional hiring practices that span various departments; and 3) providing company-wide, ongoing anti-oppression education.
An organization’s role in DEI
While every member of an organization must play an active role in DEI efforts to ensure their lasting, sustainable effect on company culture, senior leaders and those with strategic responsibility must first ensure that they have a deep understanding of how systems of inequity show up in the workplace and what they can do to disrupt them. This includes developing policies, processes, and practices designed with equity in mind. Company policy documents and coded formal and informal ways of being influence company culture more than generally considered.
These policies, processes, and practices create the container for employees’ everyday behaviors and are the guardrails for what’s possible and permissible in a company and its culture. Bringing senior leaders in charge of different business divisions together allows them to see where their work overlaps and formulate policies that encompass company culture as a whole rather than in departmental silos. Since leaders have the greatest power and influence when it comes to transforming internal structures and optimizing for inclusion, starting at the highest level of an organization allows for leaders’ shared paradigms to weave their way into the behavior of all members of an organization, no matter their level, status or role.
Actualizing DEI in your organization
Another approach to actualizing DEI in your organization is to implement a “cross-functional” hiring and recruiting practice. This looks like hiring managers across departments operating together, rather than within their respective units, to execute their work and create standard practices that apply across Human Resources, Operations, Engineering, Finance, and all other departments. While it might seem natural to sort areas of action into the former categories, creating pathways for hiring managers to collaborate with each other allows for a unified approach to inclusive hiring where one department is less likely to fall behind another. For example, these managers can work together to revise job descriptions to fix any inconsistencies, create standardized templates with key inclusion information for all recruits and new hires to reference, use an inclusive language checker for all job descriptions, ensure equity within salary bands across departments, and analyze past hiring trends and demographic data to inform future hiring strategies.
When folks in charge of recruiting, hiring, and retaining talent work in unison to collect data across multiple axes of inequity, they can better analyze the state of the organization’s workforce through an intersectional lens. Ultimately, the goal is to engage all levels of the DEI process in terms of organizational structure and methodology to ensure a holistic view of where inequity is probable to properly address it.
Lastly, an organization can make inclusion and equity a collaborative practice by providing company-wide, ongoing anti-oppression education for all. To ensure that the education provided is beneficial, there has to be a desire for this education to challenge systemic inequities and dig deeper than surface-level solutions. This desire begins with company leadership, who make organization-wide commitments to further education and uphold ongoing learning as a company value for everyone. This education does not exist to fulfill a ‘checkbox diversity initiative’ rather, it must disrupt overt and covert oppressive practices that prevent progress and belonging for marginalized people. And all employees must be involved.
Education should be viewed as a critical step, or one of the many necessary tactics, to learn how oppression manifests at work and what is required to disrupt it as a daily process for individuals. Our workshop participants have shared their experiences with overhearing unsettling conversations at the water cooler and having uncomfortable one-on-ones with their manager, and being unsure how to address these incidents, namely because the organizational infrastructure to confront these concerns and rectify them on a company-wide level did not exist. What would it have looked like if these individuals shared the language and applicable knowledge to recognize and disrupt oppressive behaviors and knew that their senior leaders shared that knowledge and could ensure policies reflected their equity-informed shared values?
Key to DEI work is ensuring that the folks responsible are given the skills and frameworks to execute it well. The intention is important, but so is the impact. Often, attempts at DEI fall flat and hard because those tasked with it, from senior leaders, and hiring managers to staff, are not adequately equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to build inclusive company policies, hire and retain diverse talent and take on behaviors that actively create belonging daily. Ambitious inclusion and equity require all hands, so all hands need to understand their role in building an inclusive workplace.