Why Leaders Need to Focus on DEI Efforts Now More Than Ever

by The Insights

The equal employment opportunity and affirmative action laws enacted during the tumultuous 1960s are the foundation of today’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Six decades and a global pandemic later, companies have come a long way since the initial attempts to diversify their workforce. What started out as simple “diversity” has become much more complex.

The pandemic has forever changed the values ​​of workers and the workplace itself. Employees are drawn to companies whose DEI efforts go beyond the skin. Social unrest surrounding racial injustice, civil liberties and the growing perils of climate change have led workers to ask their employers to also engage on these kinds of issues.

It can sound like many internal and external distractions that business leaders would rather avoid than deal with. Many would rather focus solely on producing a great product or service, gobbling up market share and enjoying growing profits.

Although DEI is changing, it is not going away. Leaders need to focus more than ever on their DEI strategies. Here are some reasons.

kindness matters

Corporate America is full of brands that embrace kindness. Think Bombas, TOMS shoes and, well, KIND. The practice of companies donating a product to those in need for every product sold is a remarkable kindness to the world. But charity, as they say, begins at home. What are companies doing to cultivate kindness among themselves?

Some brands are moving beyond simply trying to educate their employees on the value of understanding, appreciating and welcoming diversity. They also incorporate kindness in their respective DEI strategies. Taking the time to truly see and hear people who are different from you not only helps everyone thrive, but also develops leadership capacity, creates a growth mindset, and drives performance.

This is the philosophy of Marissa Andrada. As the former Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Human Resources at Chipotle, her mission was to co-create with leaders and team members an environment where every employee, at all levels of the organization, can flourish and do its best. This inclusive and equitable culture has affected business transformation and the company’s profitable growth. As a DEI thought leader and sought-after speaker, Andrada describes herself as a “master of culture and catalyst of kindness.” In this capacity, she is passionate about helping companies create goal-driven, high-performance cultures that are exponentially more meaningful than mere providers of products and services and successful in driving business results.

The idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts is old. To be whole, however, each part, i.e. each person, needs support and the opportunity to excel. Integrity means that no one does things at someone else’s expense, but for the greater good.

DEI has become too big to fail

Big banks aren’t the only institutions considered “too big to fail.” Company DEI policies also require a bailout when they fail. The DEI concept has become too important for employees to risk failure.

The growth of DEI’s efforts has spawned industry practitioners. But this evolution has not yet resulted in a standardization of practices, measurements and analyses. Instead, every organization finds its own way through something started with the best of intentions but often in danger of collapsing under its own weight.

Most companies set diversity goals because they are easily measurable. But diversity goals alone do not make a DEI program. It is more important to identify what is causing the disparities and set targets to address the causes.

Effective DEI programs must reflect a cultural shift, not just a shift in the number of underrepresented employees hired. Serious and thoughtful efforts do not alienate anyone. Instead, they strive to bring everyone together as DEI grows organically and takes on a larger-than-life role.

Generational change is here

The shift in generations making up the workforce has arrived. Millennials have essentially become the full moon, with Gen Z rising rapidly. Generational change calls for changes in everything from technology to employee benefits to a company’s environmental, social and government (ESG) policies.

This shift also demands a real shift in DEI’s efforts, driven by the inherent racial and ethnic diversity of Gen Z. Some 80% of Gen Z prioritize DEI, and more than half want to see more diversity in leadership. The problem here is that those who endorse DEI policies are much older and much less diverse than the predominant sectors of the workforce.

Company management would be wise to steer clear of emerging generations who not only value diversity, but represent it. By letting them take the lead in developing DEI efforts, you both create culture-altering results and grow your future leaders.

Baby boomers and Gen Xers in corporate leadership are sometimes confused by diversity issues such as gender identity and a work culture altered by changing values ​​and technology. Yet for younger generations, especially Gen Z, this is life as they have always known it. Companies are going to have to catch up with them or lose them forever.

Non-believers need not apply

Companies that don’t really invest in making their workplace a place where diversity, acceptance, respect and value apply to every employee will fail at DEI. At this point in the growth of the DEI industry, there are opportunities to discover why programs fail and what elements make them successful.

If you don’t believe strongly in DEI’s contribution to the success of your business, you’re way behind. DEI policies that are little more than lip service may be good enough for older workers, but not for the emerging workforce. In a world where the ability to pivot has become the key to success, failing to pivot is no longer an option.

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