Struggling to meet your DEI&B goals? Start with inclusion, not diversity

Originally published in the Globe & Mail July 14, 2023 | Read the original post

Over the past couple of decades, organizations’ Diversity agenda has evolved from D&I (plus inclusion) to DE&I (plus equity) to DEI&B (plus belonging).

When I first started in the workforce, the conversation was mostly around talent acquisition: “How do we get more diverse representation within our organizations,” which focuses primarily on how to source and attract a more diverse slate of candidates, mandated by boards and regulators, when jobs become available.

The conversation then evolved to education: “How do we mitigate bias when working with and leading diverse teams,” which focuses primarily on unconscious bias training. Over the past few years amid social unrest and other tragic events, such as the murder of George Floyd in 2020, DEI&B has gained the attention of CEOs and boards, beyond quotas and training.

Progressive companies now recognize that DEI&B is a key component of organizational well-being, and is much broader than candidate slates, programs and employee resource groups. Many organizations have committed to doing better, by hiring chief diversity officers and elevating DEI&B as a top priority across employee and customer groups. But have we been putting the cart before the horse by focusing on diversity first and inclusion second?

In a recent episode of the foHRsight podcast, which I host, Mita Mallick, head of inclusion, equity and impact at Carta, an ownership and equity management platform, suggests that diversity starts at our kitchen tables, not our boardroom tables. “In the U.S., two-thirds of white Americans are self-segregating and it’s similar numbers for Black Americans,” she says. “If we are not building meaningful relationships across communities and cultures, how do we expect to make progress on our journey to being more inclusive leaders, and how do we expect leaders to lead diverse teams?”

In her new book Reimagine Inclusion, Mallick shares 13 myths we have most likely heard in our organizations that derail inclusion. Here are three we discussed and what we can do to reframe them:

“I always allow everyone to speak in meetings. Of course, I am an inclusive leader.” Creating an environment of psychological safety, where everyone feels comfortable speaking up without fear of reprisal, is on the minds of most leaders and organizations at large. But simply “allowing” everyone to speak up is not enough as an inclusive leader. It is a leader’s job to proactively seek out all points of view – not just from employees who are comfortable speaking up in the traditional sense. This may include gathering input before the meeting – through digital collaboration tools or otherwise – to capture the voices that are not always heard.

“I’m all for diverse talent. As long as they are good.” As an HR leader, I’ve heard so many times about the allegedly small talent pool and the lack of diverse talent with specialized or “hot” skills, which can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of teams or entire functions consisting of only white men. This is where inclusion needs to be built into the employee value proposition. For example, offering flexibility, including remote work, helps expand the talent pool and make your company more attractive to marginalized groups and talent located outside of your office location(s). Also be wary of the bias-riddled notion of “good,” which is often coded language for “the same [education, experience, pedigree] as me.”

“Why are you asking for a raise? Your husband makes more than enough money.” We may not like to admit that this sentiment still exists within organizations, but too often pay decisions are based on factors unrelated to the value of the job or work. Equitable and inclusive pay practices are at the core of an inclusive culture. The Josh Bersin Company recently released a large study on pay equity, which shows that high-performing companies are twice as likely to review base pay on a quarterly or more frequent basis and 14 times more likely to dedicate significant budget to solving pay equity issues. Solving pay equity is not cheap, but it leads to higher performance and is an essential part of any company’s inclusion strategy.

A focus on hiring for diversity, without first building and sustaining a culture of inclusion, can be futile. Companies that don’t show employees that inclusion always matters, don’t earn the right to “count” them in their diversity metrics – they will likely leave anyway. To earn employees’ trust, inclusion needs to be embedded everywhere – from the vendors you choose to work with to leaders’ day-to-day treatment of employees – not only addressed in one-off initiatives and commemorative months. Inclusion needs to be considered not just within corporate policies, but more importantly, in work and leadership practices. The aggregation of small habits becomes your culture.