The x-Factor for DEI

Your DEI program may seem to have all the pieces. A solid, cross-functional council/committee. ERGs and strategies mapped out. Survey and HRIS data to support talent acquisition and employee engagement activities. Workshops and engaging eLearnings. Newsletters, signage, and communications supporting the company DEI strategy.

But are you really building a culture of inclusion? Maybe not. Ask yourself these questions:

Are You Embedding Empathy and Communication as Key Workplace Skills?

Most workplace DEI programs overlook how connected teaching skills like effective communication, emotional intelligence, and conflict management are to building a diverse and inclusive culture. They often focus on the simply “doing the motions,” without getting into the skills that can truly help integrate a DEI culture in the organization.

Central to DEI success and effective communication, in general, is the ability to empathize. The ability to understand someone’s point of view and actually try it on like a shirt, as if it was one’s own. Then, employees are no longer just saying and doing the “right things.” They are forming a deep understanding of people who are different. Empathy is a skill that is becoming more and more essential for effectiveness in the workplace.

In many cases, DEI workshops and training include quite a bit of interaction – yet this interaction is often intellectual and abstract, discussing concepts and methods rather than inviting actual stories, feelings, and experiences. Many employee diversity programs can become preachy, “how to” lessons that fail to get to the root of problems. Because getting to the root can be emotional at times, which is not easy to facilitate.

One of the best ways to train in empathy is through building a culture of storytelling. Create spaces for storytelling in the workplace. It can be live events, an open mic session on Zoom, a company vlog or podcast, a newsletter. But ensure that employees get a chance to regularly share and be seen for their unique identities. Allow differences to truly be celebrated.

Formal learning is traditionally a one-way process: watch this e-learning, listen to this instructor, do these exercises, answer this multiple choice quiz. And yet in fact, it is through real-life experience and stories that people are truly activated to create change – to act on what they learn.

Leadership and management play a huge part in inspiring this effort. Encourage leaders to undertake communication coaching and storytelling training as a means to inspire the workforce to share their own stories.

Are You Measuring and Improving Cross-Functional Collaboration?

DEI efforts will largely go to waste if day-to-day company and team operations pretty much stay the same. Thus ,focus on how DEI concepts can be applied to actual workplace situations. One way to do this is to conduct a network analysis to look at how your organization communicates and interacts. This information can help design strategies to enable more collaboration.

Whether it’s a new program like a company-sponsored lunch that matches up random employees every week to go on a subsidized lunch together – Or something more involved. like an overhaul of the existing organization design to become more agile and distributed. Either way, you can ensure you’re creating opportunities and spaces for different types of employees to interact and learn from one another.

Are Your DEI Policies and Processes too Rigid?

Too often, DEI is treated as a black and white issue within companies(no pun intended): there is the “right” way and the “wrong” way. Policies and processes are often punitive and fear-inducing, rather than tolerant and empathetic.

Remember that DEI involves in it a mindset change for each individual and for the workplace, and no one will get it 100% right all of the time. Bias is an ingrained aspect of the human mind and existence, and overcoming bias is an process that takes time and active practice. Thus, ensure your policies create enough space to be able to discern well-intentioned mistakes from ill-intentioned ones.

True harassment, discrimination, and hateful speech or action certainly needs to be punished and uprooted from the organization. However, people can also make mistakes and are able to learn from them. Create policies and processes that allow for discernment, empathy, and constructive feedback.

DEI is a Journey for the Workplace and Individual

There is no magic formula for DEI success. Thus, DEI seems to be less of a goal and more of a collective process, a journey – for the organization and for each individual. Not just a workshop or a program but a challenging of the prevailing culture and the “way we do things.”

Perhaps the approach for corporate diversity and inclusion needs to be less about “teaching”, and more about listening and informal learning. Allowing space for sharing real life experiences and stories to be shared so that empathy and deep understanding can develop, rather than simply imposing policies and practices and abstract ideas of “right” and “wrong”.

There is no magic methodology that, if implemented everywhere, will solve D&I challenges in workplaces. D&I seems to be less of a goal and more of a collective process, a journey – for the organization and for each individual. A collaborative exploration and a challenging of our own assumptions and biases at each moment and an active willingness to learn, continuously.

Learn how to make diversity and inclusion your organization’s competitive advantage.