"Awareness and education means establishing a baseline understanding in your organisation of DEIA terms, including diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility itself," Minal Bopaiah – author of Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives writes exclusively for HRO.
In June 2019, 500 Wayfair employees walked out of the company headquarters in Boston to protest the sale of beds to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centres where children and parents seeking refuge were being separated and locked in cages.
In March 2020, dozens of employees at publishing company Hachette walked out of their company’s headquarters in New York City to protest its decision to publish a memoir by alleged child molester Woody Allen.
Later, in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, hundreds of Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout by taking the day off to protest their leadership’s decision to allow Donald Trump to post false, inflammatory, and racist posts.
And just last month, Netflix employees staged a walk-out for trans solidarity in response to the company’s handling of Dave Chappelle’s new comedy special.
As more and more individuals begin to recognise the reality of interdependence and organise for big changes, their power grows. And leaders will be forced to respond.
“Younger employees and customers have come to see practices such as sustainability and community economic empowerment as mandatory for their loyalty,” writes Rohini Anand, a business leader who served as global chief diversity officer at Sodexo.
In short, whether leaders choose to co-create a more equitable world, or not, will directly impact their ability to hire talent.
So what’s an HR professional to do?
First, understand that your hiring and retention rates are lagging indicators. They indicate how welcoming and inclusive your culture is of difference, but they should not be the first or only measure of your success in designing an equitable organisation.
In general, when my strategy and design firm Brevity & Wit consults with organisations, we like to take a three-step approach to designing an equitable organisation:
- Awareness and education
- Skill building
Awareness and education means establishing a baseline understanding in your organisation of DEIA terms, including diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility itself. You’d be surprised how often I’ve discovered that leadership and staff are not even defining the term inclusion in the same manner, and that’s what’s leading to massive confusion and conflict in the organisation.
Inclusion does not mean everyone gets a vote, and equity is not always preferred over equality. These terms need to be understood in their nuance, especially by leadership.
Once there’s a baseline understanding of what these terms mean, as well as a vision for what type of organisation you’re trying to be, HR professionals should undergo company-wide trainings, starting with leadership, to build critical skills, such as active listening, how to provide actionable feedback, and steps to mitigate bias in project assignment and performance reviews. These skills should be observable so they can later be incorporated into performance reviews.
Which leads us to accountability. This is the big jump for many companies, and indeed, our society. We have very few models of accountability. Instead, we tend to swing between complicity and punishment (or public shaming).
Accountability, to me, means holding people responsible for their actions while still affirming their worth as a human being. It’s hard and awkward and, ultimately, kind. But it’s absolutely necessary if you want the change to stick.
One thing I’ve noticed is that employees are quick to demand accountability from leaders and managers. Some of this may be because of generational differences between staff and leadership. For the most part, a lot of DEIA is second nature for younger generations and a steep learning curve for older ones.
Older generations may need to be brought into this concept, but younger ones may need to slow down. After all, it’s not fair (that is, just and equitable) to hold older colleagues accountable for skills they have never been taught. They need time to learn and make mistakes, just as younger staff deserve time to learn and make mistakes in their work product.
And that will often be the biggest challenge to HR professionals – reminding everyone that the organisation moves at a pace that is different from the individual. But in the words of a famous African proverb, if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.
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