By Cat Donovan
Big Buzz Idea Group
“It’s been a long … a long time coming. But I know a change is gonna come.” Sam Cooke took his real-life experience of being turned away from a whites-only motel in Louisiana during the Civil Rights era and turned it into the 1964 smash hit, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” The message of his song – equal treatment for all – has carried through the airwaves in the decades since. And while significant strides have been put into action by the Black Lives Matters movement, there are still many areas of improvement when it comes to truly executing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at an impactful level in the workplace.
These steps involve looking inward at ourselves (and at the biases we may not realize exist) and outward at every step of our employees’ experience from joining the company to day-to-day operations.
Understanding Self Bias
We all see life through a lens of lived experiences. What we were taught and heard as children, then to our experiences in school and day-to-day in public places create biases. Sometimes those views and opinions are implanted but we don’t realize it. We don’t have to think about them until we are forced to and that often results in – or is the result of – a less-than-desirable situation: you put your foot in your mouth.
The good news is that we accumulate different lenses as we go through life and experiences. As we know better, we do better. Asking questions about someone from a different background will often teach you something about yourself in return. One of the most powerful and impactful tools at our disposal is connecting through curiosity.
How do you know you are asking appropriate questions? That is where DEI training becomes another tool to engage.
Education Is Top-Down
DEI training and education must be a priority for those at the very top of the organization. The mentality needs to be embracing DEI vs. compliance. DEI training does not begin and end at checking off a box following the conclusion of an hour-long training session. DEI is not just creating a Diversity Statement; it is action. Invite diverse people to your table and then allow them to be seen, heard and understood.
The training is just the start of the journey:
• Have a plan
• Don’t rush the process
• Start and complete all the steps
• If you commit to report back, do it
Inevitably, employees will bring DEI concerns to their supervisors, so nonprofits must have a plan in place for how to respond – and that plan needs to be known to the team. Be aware that the quickest way to break trust in this situation is to not follow up; therefore, prepare with a process on how to handle problems around DEI so that your team is aware of next steps. It is here you need to manage expectations so that the team knows the response will occur on a deliberate timeline. Fast action does not produce desired long-term results when it comes to making the necessary changes.
Never assume a new employee knows and understands terms that are frequently tossed around during the onboarding stage. Not everyone grew up in a household where an adult had a 401K or a health benefits package. Your new employee might be the first person in their family to graduate from college or hold a salaried job instead of hourly. Remember at every step that your lived experience will likely be through a different lens than theirs. Acknowledging this will avoid glossing over what can often be a confusing time for a new employee.
Set up your onboarding process in a manner where the new hire is made to feel comfortable about asking questions. Pose the questions yourself as to create a welcoming environment: “Are you familiar with 401K plans? I’m happy to set aside some time this week to review how ours works so you can decide if you’d like to participate.”
Avoiding assumptions about others is always a best practice in our personal and professional lives. But especially avoiding assumptions during the hiring process creates a more equitable onboarding for all involved.
Understanding Equality vs. Equity
Equality is treating everyone the same. Equity is providing others with what they need to have a fair shot at success. For example, equality is giving everyone on your team a company hat, while equity is giving them a hat that fits. Equity recognizes that not everyone starts at the same line in life.
Knowledge Equals Inclusivity
Oftentimes people in owner or manager positions try to keep information close to the vest. Though there will certainly exist confidential business information, it’s time to reevaluate communication overall.
One way to make employees feel as though they belong is by keeping them informed. It’s the lower level and front-facing employees who tend to be the ones keeping day-to-day operations flowing in a smooth and proper manner – and it’s often they are the least informed. Those employees should be in the loop about the goings-on within the company, and there should exist a constant open-door policy that welcomes their feedback without fear of repercussion. And that’s where a DEI process becomes a most valuable asset that every nonprofit needs to create, implement and rely on.
Take the time to walk through your DEI policy with your entire team. One of the most common assumptions around communication is assuming that it happened.
Change is Gonna Come
Evaluating and implementing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policies in your organization might seem overwhelming, but actionable steps can start small. And the process should be ongoing; DEI education doesn’t start and end.
When implementing DEI policies into your nonprofit, you should always aim to include a diverse population in the conversation. Connecting from a genuine place of wanting to understand will help lift up your team and avoid low morale. In order to lead your organization down an equitable path, look at who is at the table with you and ask yourself, “Do they reflect our mission and values?” And then ask the same about yourself.