In this four-part blog series, thought leaders Rita Bailey, Elaine Biech, and Tonya Wilson offer advice for how to drive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives forward at your organization.
When you’re getting buy-in for DE&I efforts, it’s similar to any other change management effort.
Every individual needs to feel like they are a part of their change. They can buy into it more easily when they know their role and their responsibility. If we have created a compelling vision for what a DE&I effort could be, by creating a sense of urgency and building a business case so everyone can see what the results will be, then employees will be able to identify what their role might be within that effort.
Every employee wants to feel as if they’re a part of making the organization the best that it could possibly be. Getting involved in DE&I is no different, so we have to communicate with employees. We have to help them understand why it’s best for them as well as the organization. And we have to allow them to be a part of that change effort so that they can create their own buy-in.
There are three specific points to consider when it comes to engaging employees with DE&I. First, we need to make sure that we allow time for everyone—individual employees and leaders—to ask questions and share their perspectives. Second, we must affirm and acknowledge. If someone shares something with you, thank them for doing so and acknowledge that doing so might have been difficult. Third, it’s important to reinforce your organization’s values. Those three things will definitely help to engage employees and keep that engagement moving forward.
With DE&I, there is often a split camp between people who think that this is long overdue and are excited to make things happen; people who are on the fence and waiting to see what the DE&I initiative means to them; and people who don’t understand why a DE&I effort is necessary. There are also people within an organization who hear about a DE&I initiative and think “Oh boy, here we go again.” A lot of organizations have started DE&I initiatives that don’t have enough support behind them to be successful. We have to remember that there are people who have put their hearts and souls into a DE&I effort and feel like giving up.
It’s important to understand where all these camps of employees are coming from and to start conversations in ways that are going to be meaningful. There are so many creative ways to engage employees in conversations. Some chief diversity officers hold listening tours or start book clubs. Some are hosting lunch & learns. Whoever is leading those conversations must know the level of commitment that the organization has toward DE&I and avoid overcommitting to ideas that haven’t been bought into yet. They also have to ensure that conversations don’t become whine sessions and focus on what people can do to make a difference.
Be sure to have data related to issues like recruiting and retention as well as data related to whether people feel safe and included within the organization. That data can help frame the conversations you have with employees on DE&I. Rather than just talking about how people are feeling, you can address the topics that are most relative to the individuals and the organization. That can help you arrive at sustainable, impactful solutions. Otherwise, people might leave thinking that it felt good to talk but not know what will happen as a result of that conversation. Using data as your guide can help you level-set what people’s experiences have been and focus the conversation around solutions.
In the change management world, we sometimes say, “take a whiner to lunch,” which means that it’s important to engage with the people who are frustrated by the change process. We need to validate that everyone’s opinion is important. We need to hear from everyone on this topic, including the white male voice. Everyone is a stakeholder.
We also have to look at the people who are impacted by DE&I efforts and think about what is a win for them. What is a loss for them? How do we help them? If they are naysayers, what’s the validity in what they’re saying? How can we overcome those obstacles and turn them around? We need to create a lateral structure that allows many people to come to the table so that we're fostering connectivity. And maybe those people can also be part of our change network, as ambassadors who help get buy-in from others.
Get more great insight from Rita, Elaine, and Tonya by listening to their DE&I Discussion Series. Recordings from this discussion series, along with associated resources, can be found here.