Black History Month allows us to take the time to recognize the innumerable and foundational contributions that Black Americans have made. One way to honor the accomplishments of the past is to acknowledge what needs to be addressed in the present to secure a more equitable and inclusive future.
It is more imperative now than ever that boardrooms have a wealth of diversity. The need to diversify board leadership has been evident for some time and the social justice movements of 2020 served as an urgent reminder to many organizations. While the number of companies with greater than 40% diversity on their boards has nearly quadrupled since 2010, Deloitte states, “It will take until 2074, when the U.S. celebrates its tricentennial, before the number of Fortune 500 board seats held by minorities reaches the ABD’s [Alliance for Board Diversity] aspirational 40% board representation rate.” Accordingly, organizations will benefit from having concrete and proactive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plans in place.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are three interdependent concepts and ideals that, together, can create environments where people of many and different intersectional identities are supported, acknowledged, and accepted. DEI initiatives are essential to fostering an effective, productive workplace and successful organizational structure. There are specific actions companies and hiring teams can take to discover, attract, engage, and hire people from underrepresented groups. To start, every company should have a DEI strategy specific to the organization and its unique needs. In our opinion, there are also five key action items that can facilitate your organization’s path forward.
1. Make an Honest Assessment
To move in the right direction, it is essential to know what needs to be changed. Start by taking a look at your board, evaluating what demographic groups are well represented and which need more of a voice in your organization. Does the board makeup reflect the community, clients, or customers you serve? Do you have a diversity of thought leadership?
2. Define Your Organization’s DEI Purpose
Once you have a clearer view of your organization’s representation gaps, you should develop and implement your organization’s DEI purpose. Outline your organization’s vision and values. This should be upheld by defined strategic pillars that will help foster a diverse work environment that is equitable and inclusive for all individuals.
3. Establish A Governing Body
While every person in your organization should work to create a more inclusive environment through individual action, implementing a DEI advocacy group is crucial to the success of your vision, as they will work to provide direction, sponsor change, and track the progress of organization-wide change.
4. Identify Metrics to Evaluate Outcomes and Progress
Quantifiable goals increase accountability and the success of DEI initiatives. Measurable data will also aid in organizational transparency and empower the right people to act toward your DEI initiatives. The Harvard Business Review reported that organizations that gather thorough workplace demographic data are better equipped to build inclusive cultures than those that do not.
5. Cultivate the Next Generation of Leaders (Equity Through Education)
Organizations can volunteer, mentor, and donate to community-based organizations that support underserved communities. Creating opportunities for youth that wouldn’t otherwise have access to them is a requisite to diversifying future workplaces. One example of the many community building efforts organizations are currently taking comes from Aerospace Corporation. Ed Swallow, CFO of Aerospace Corp., shares that their university program funds research activities by graduate students in targeted populations to help increase the overall pipeline of diverse talent in the field.
In today’s competitive climate, diversity, equity, and inclusion are often treated as buzzwords that can amount to little more than a mandatory annual training. But the reality is, when you make DEI a priority, every facet of your organization benefits, including the bottom line. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule book for rolling out a successful DEI program within your organization, you can begin your journey by learning what DEI truly is and understanding the value it can bring to your company. Simply put, reinforcing robust DEI programs helps every employee to show up each day without fear of being their true selves. I applaud every organization making this a priority for 2022 and beyond.