14 January2021

The Building Blocks of DEI

How to start your organization's DEI journey.

by Salvatore Reedus

Throughout 2020, there was plenty of talk around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Forbes writes a compelling argument​ for DEI through an empowerment lens. From a corporate standpoint, the theme of DEI is not a new one. There were calls for more representation across leadership levels, a need for people's voices to be heard, and a demand for genuine corporate social responsibility efforts. Many companies published diversity statements throughout the back half of the year, issued goals they wish to accomplish, and even set aside money to give back to the community. Internally, many companies conducted implicit and unconscious bias training, held listening sessions with their employees, and some even hired DEI consultants to help with their internal efforts. These are all beautiful steps and should be applauded, but my take is that we are putting the cart before the horse.

When it comes to being a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, it starts with culture.​ You can do all the training and bring in all the speakers, but nothing will truly change if a company does not address its culture. Instead, companies will continue to live on what I call the "speaker high effect." This is when a speaker or a training happens and for the next two weeks, everyone is conscious and on board. However, by the third week, the enthusiasm has subsided and things begin to return to normal until the next one.

Conducting a company-wide feasibility study on culture is an expensive and exhaustive undertaking. However, I have crafted a three-step model you can do over the next week to get an estimate on where you think your culture might land.

Step 1. Sit or stand in a common employee area for a couple of minutes and take mental notes of who is walking by.

Do the people walking by look like the people you are serving? Who are the people in your meetings? Are they representative of the rest of your workforce? Do they look like your customers?

Step 2. What is the expected response of "How are you?"

This common question can give you significant insights into your culture. Often, people go about their day without actually hearing their colleagues or answering questions on autopilot. Even worse, people hear the questions but are crafting answers based on what they have seen as acceptable. The question "How are you?" is an excellent test because if you get variations of "good" for every answer throughout the day, that is a red flag. Undoubtedly, if people feel as though they can be honest when you ask that question, they will give you an answer other than good.

Step 3. How are your meetings conducted and does everyone who attends the meeting feel as though they are valuable to the conversation?

Over the week, you should observe your meetings and look for a few key factors. First, do all the people at the meeting need to be there? Meetings can be the biggest time-waster of the day, leading to people doing work outside of the office to catch up because they lost valuable time in a meeting.

Second, how are the meetings conducted? Are they collaborative or more affirmative? Throughout the week, you will have many meetings. Some will be manager-led; these are usually more informational and are unavoidable. However, I am interested in the rest of your meetings? In those meetings, are things genuinely collaborative or are they more of a "yes sessions?" If the latter is true, then that is a red flag. When creating inclusive and equitable spaces, ensuring that people's voices are heard is critical. Third, was there a recognition of successes to start the meeting? Admittedly, this may be inappropriate to start every meeting, but there should be at least one meeting in which the team's successes are recognized throughout the week. If this does not occur, you should take note.

Finally, over the week, does at least one meeting end or begin with a check-in? This is crucial for creating an equitable and inclusive workplace because it fosters honesty and transparency, which are the bedrock of an equitable and inclusive culture.

While these three steps will not give you all the data or show you point by point where you need to improve, they will provide you with a basic baseline if you are honest and objective with yourself. Can I be frank with you for a second? As I sit here writing this blog, I wonder what the odds are that someone completes all three steps?

I don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know is that the person who authentically completes all three steps has taken a significant step forward in creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace than anyone who has thrown money at the situation in hopes that it will solve the problem.​ Moreover, the person who completes all three steps will begin to understand the basic building blocks of a mature DEI culture. It starts with caring about your people.

While DEI can be extremely complicated when you start talking about contract inclusion, subcontractor diversity standards, or globally inclusive marketing material, the basic building blocks are not. However, starting at the basics is not always noteworthy. For this reason, many companies opt for the cart before the horse methodology instead of doing the work it takes to build a mature DEI culture.

For more information on how Five to Flow can support your DEI transformation efforts, learn more about our​ DEI solutions​ by visiting our website. We would love to hear your thoughts on investing in diversity, equity and inclusion in 2021. Please comment below!

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