The Importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Lauren Francis, Founder and President, and Laura Back, Director of Marketing and Events, of Mulberry Talent Partners sat down with HR Professional Isaac E. Dixon, Ph.D., SPHR in early January for a Mulberry Leadership Conversation about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace.

Isaac E. Dixon, PhD. SPHR is an accomplished HR professional with over 30 years of experience. He has worked with companies including NIKE, GE Capital, Portland State University, Providence Health and Services, as well as the Oregon Military Department and the Oregon Department of Transportation. This year, Isaac will be embarking on a new venture, with the launch of Vista HR Consulting.

Getting Senior Leadership Buy-In

“Getting the support from senior leadership, regardless of size or type, is critical to the success of not only diversity, equity, and inclusion, but most HR-related initiatives,” says Dixon. “With DEI in particular, senior leaders might have different ideas of what it means, what the work involves, and what the journey looks like.”

As a starting point for anyone responsible for or considering launching a DEI initiative in the workplace, Dixon recommends starting the process with a conversation. It’s important to sit down with each member of senior leadership to understand where they are individually when it comes to understanding DEI initiatives.

“Remember, we have to take people where they are, not where we wish they would be,” he says. “So understanding where they are individually can help you as you craft the path your diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative is going to take.”

Understand Your Organizational Culture

Organizational culture has a significant impact on any kind of initiative or change pursued by an organization. Having an open and honest dialogue to understand what limitations or roadblocks may exist and opening lines of communication can help overcome them.

“You need to be dialed into your organizational culture,” says Dixon. “Are we a change adverse organization? Are we highly cautious? Are we risk-averse? Knowing these things about your culture can help you craft the scope, the depth, the pace, at which things are going to move. If you attempt to move too fast in a risk-averse organization, you end up running the boat into the rocks and that can be difficult to recover from.” 

Be Prepared to Provide Support and Resources

It’s common for organizations to blindly jump into DEI initiatives with good intentions, but without the understanding of what it takes to implement these initiatives successfully. These responsibilities are often delegated to HR personnel without a discussion of available resources, knowledge skills, and abilities necessary, and without a plan for the development of that HR practitioner that now has DEI under their scope of responsibilities.

“Any person would feel ambushed and a lot of times that’s what happens,” says Dixon. “If you want to make a DEI initiative unsuccessful, that’s a great way to do it.”

Many times when an organization adopts this approach, they need to evaluate the “why” for launching the DEI initiative. It shouldn’t be because DEI initiatives are popular and buzz-worthy, or to simply check off a box. The organization must be willing to dedicate the time and resources to its success.

Build Bridges and Connections Within the Community

Building connections with non-profits and philanthropic organizations can be a useful way to make deeper relationships with specific communities that your organization has struggled to reach.

Make connections with community-based organizations that may host fundraisers or other events by sending your key people to those events with business cards to make connections and build relationships.

“Word of mouth is much stronger than a website,” says Dixon. “Investing our time in building relationships with community-based organizations, is a great way to build your in-rows to communities that may not be well-represented in your workplace.”

Measurable DEI Outcomes

Measuring the success and progress of DEI initiatives is vital to their success. “We live in an era of data, and HR people, in particular, are becoming more data-focused, not less,” says Dixon.

Dixon adds that recruitment and selection data, the makeup of applicant pools, and who is hired versus the number of people who apply are all data points that should be tracked. He adds that you should also define processes for how you request contracts and keep track of if they are women or minority-owned.

“These are all things you can start tracking in a dashboard,” says Dixon. “Over the course of time, we have a real snapshot of where we were, where we are going, and what does the gap look like in between. Then we can have intelligent discussions about how to close the gap, what resources are necessary, and make changes.”

The Personal Side of DEI

You also need to understand the individuals within your organization and how they impact the culture and success of DEI initiatives.

“Understand who your organization is, what people value, and what’s important to them. Take the time to talk to people individually to understand how they see what you are attempting to do and if they are willing to support it and if not, what information they need to help them to move,” says Dixon. “All of us have biases. All of us have concerns. The voice of employees, especially in DEI work, has to be heard. This work is individual and highly personal, as well as organizational.”

Dixon also adds that DEI work can be uncomfortable as people are encouraged to reach beyond their comfort zones, but “being uncomfortable is being part of how we change and move forward.”

DEI Big and Small

Regardless of resources, DEI initiatives can be achieved by organizations big and small.

Dixon says it’s vital to gather stakeholders and assess where you are, where you want to go, and why. It’s important to consider how DEI aligns with your organizational mission, vision, and values and the most difficult question of who is going to be responsible for the workload, with the perseverance necessary for the initiative to sustain itself.

These questions alone could be a multi-day discussion amongst leadership, but these questions are best answered from the get-go, rather than after blindly jumping into the work.

“The conversation with stakeholders is everything,” says Dixon. “They are the boots on the ground in terms of making this all come to life. So, the more they feel involved and the more they feel heard, the better your chances are.”

If you’d like to learn more, check out the recording our Leadership Conversation with Isaac below:

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