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The new year brings new ideas. Following the tumultuous years of 2020 and 2021 where we saw surges in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts at organizations, 2022 saw a slight decline in activity.
Compare with younger workers under age 35 considering a new job, 80% say that DEI is very or somewhat important, which is 20% higher than past generations. The workforce and customers of the future want more action from organizations.
2023 comes with renewed energy with headwinds of burnout and slow systemic change. Consider these ideas to drive DEI more at your organization.
Related: How to Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Your Workplace
1. Discuss power and privilege
The “P” word can be daunting to discuss, yet it is essential to understand to understanding DEI and the power of allies. Privilege is a chance to be an ally for someone different from yourself. It does not mean you are a bad person or that you did not work hard for your accomplishments, it simply means the hardships you faced did not have to do with a part of your identity (race, gender, LGBTQ+, age, disability, etc.)
All humans experience challenges, it is important to know that some identities experience more challenges based on factors outside of their control. Our favorite way to introduce this is through a privileged activity with statements where people can identify and learn more about their unique privileges as a positive source of power to help others.
2. Broaden diversity beyond race and gender
Too often, DEI programs are solely focused on race and gender and alienate the majority group (white men) that feel they are not a part of DEI. When we bring in more layers of identity — neurodiversity, mental health, LGBTQ+, disability, age, social class, education, housing, body size and more — we engage more potential allies in the conversation. We also see the benefits of diversity more clearly when unique perspectives are welcomed and listened to leading to higher rates of innovation and better business outcomes.
3. Include neurodiversity
An estimated 15-20% of people worldwide identify as neurodiverse. Neurodiversity could include ADHD, autism or Asperger’s and many more diagnoses. Neurodiversity means cognitive differences where people’s brains work differently than those that identify as neurotypical. Including neurodiversity in DEI work helps maximize the full diversity of the workforce, especially younger people that have higher rates of diagnosis and awareness.
Related: 6 Ways to Lead on Neurodiversity in the Workplace
4. Try bite-sized DEI efforts
Many well-intentioned organizations jumped into DEI work in 2020, only to find out that it is a long game. Centuries of inequality will not be solved overnight or even in our lifetimes.
Breaking DEI into smaller chunks of learning, communications and experiences threaded over time creates a more lasting impact. Some examples are regular communications, training, guest speakers and leadership discussions — essentially putting DEI wherever important topics are communicated on a regular basis.
5. Measure DEI
Without knowing the baseline, it is hard to know where to start or how to show the ROI of DEI. Consider a validated survey approach, combing through pay data, demographic and employee engagement data or focus groups or listening sessions to determine the current state, problems and opportunities.
6. Ensure you have full leadership engagement
Without leadership’s full commitment to DEI, it does not work. That means that all leaders at all levels of the organization need to be well-versed in DEI issues and ready to engage in conversations on a regular basis. Most people leaders feel ill-prepared to discuss issues of diversity and avoid participating as a result. This can be achieved through leadership retreats, ongoing DEI topics on existing agendas or book discussions on key topics.
Related: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives Are Incomplete Without This Essential Dimension
7. Use inclusive language
One of the biggest opportunities for teams is to know how to surface issues with DEI without othering or offending someone unintentionally. Having go-to phrases to call people in with helpful language to say about issues with race, gender, disability and LGBTQ+ is key. People want to know what to say and not say so they can be better. There are many helpful training programs that can help and everyday communications and reminders help nudge people toward more inclusion.
8. Implement intersectionality
Kimberle Crenshaw coined the terms over 30 years ago and many still do not fully understand the concept. For example, women of color or those with disabilities who are also gay experience not one form of diversity — they experience multiple dimensions simultaneously. It is impossible to be a woman one moment and a person of color another moment. Discussing these intersections during Black History Month, Women’s History Month and Pride Month (and all year) is important.
9. Address burnout sooner than later
People in marginalized communities are more likely to experience burnout and are exiting the workforce at higher levels. The major causes of burnout are unsustainable workloads, perceived lack of control, insufficient rewards for effort, lack of a supportive community, and lack of fairness or mismatched values and skills. This can be addressed by freeing up time for DEI work, compensating people for leading DEI work in addition to their day jobs and making DEI a part of performance management.
10. Take accountability for toxic behavior
Toxic workplace culture is the leading cause of negative attrition. If the “always on” ideal or traditional worker model continues to be rewarded even when the employee’s behavior is toxic, that signals that DEI is a nice to have, not a must-have. Having toxic employees on the team disrupts the team dynamic and lowers the psychological safety necessary to drive DEI.
There are many more DEI issues than these, yet these ideas are intended to be a starting point. Consider sharing them as a team, brainstorming other ideas and prioritizing a few to focus on for 2023. DEI is a long game — one that requires nudges along the way. By continuing to emphasize the importance and commitment to DEI, organizations achieve more.