People want to be seen, heard, and valued.
That part feels obvious, but so many organizations only scratch the surface of how they support their employees and cater to their constituents with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
When I speak with corporate heads of DEI and internal communications teams, I often hear that they’re embarrassed by the lack of progress with respect to diversity initiatives. They fear highlighting those efforts would bring more ridicule than praise.
I was reminded of this during a recently completed DEI Communications certificate program. Taught by DEI expert Kim Grant, she reminded our class of the wisdom of Bishop Desmond Tutu, who said, “Language is very powerful. Language does not just describe reality. Language creates the reality it describes.”
As communicators, we have the power to create a reality that does not yet exist.
It’s Time to Create Our Reality
I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of inaction.
In recent years, numerous companies hired heads of DEI, created employee resource groups, and held town halls around tragic societal events. These actions stemmed from a desire to listen to and support employees, connect with customers, and create positive change.
But many companies are hesitant to highlight what they’re doing in DEI because the progress that needs to be made or should be made, isn’t where they want or thought it would be…yet.
They’re slow to say things publicly because they are afraid. Afraid of saying the wrong thing. Afraid of talking about goals without having completed or made meaningful progress toward the goal. They’re afraid of public fingers being pointed at them. So, they don’t. And in that silence, they allow other voices to take up the space.
In 2020, Ellevest was bold in creating “Our Commitment to Racial Justice,” a public document outlining the tangible steps they would take to make their workplace more inclusive. Beyond words, they set goals and updated the site with their progress.
The key word is “progress.” Not victory because, as I’ve learned, positive achievements in personal and corporate DEI efforts will forever be evolving as people, workplaces, and society evolve themselves. Victory implies the work is done, and we move on. There is no moving on from DEI.
But back to Ellevest. They were specific and vulnerable! Sharing things like how their teams attended mandatory anti-racism and unconscious bias training and discussions and created small group spaces to participate in guided discussions and talk about anti-racism work.
They were doing the work.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
The reality is that it’s time for companies to put pen to paper and outline a strategy to accompany their hopes of designing a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. Our team recently outlined a commitment to increasing diverse spokespeople in 2023, which fits squarely in our wheelhouse. Our plan has goals, is public, and will be measured. Stop and think: in what specific ways can my organization make an impact?
Committing to annual, mandatory DEI leadership training in addition to companywide all-staff ones is also a strong start. Doing so integrates the concept of DEI into overall business training and makes it a business imperative, which is what it should be.
There needs to be a perspective shift from mentorship to allyship on the individual level. In the past, mentorships have been plentiful, and while serving as a mentor to someone is a worthy goal, being an ally is better. Allies provide strategic, long-term advice and counsel with inclusion at the center. An easier way to think about it is to simply speak people’s names in rooms they are not in as a way to open a door for them.
Beyond these three examples, there are plenty of ways to increase DEI efforts on both an organizational and individual level.
Finding a DEI Starting Place
If this piece speaks to you, perhaps your organization has had some wins and successes. Perhaps you’re not where you want them to be, but is it progress? If the needle keeps moving forward, that is to be recognized
I encourage you to speak about the progress! It’s good to talk about things. Talking brings things to the forefront and puts energy into the air.
Also, don’t worry about criticism. The truth is that criticism will come whether you say something or not. If you say nothing, people will assume you’ve done nothing. Give them a point of reference, and be honest in your approach to how you will move forward. When you put it out in the universe, you bring accountability which can be a strong motivator to keep grinding in this important work instead of giving up.
Take ownership early. Shape your narrative. Get to work.