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What Role does Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Play for the US Employer?

To gain insight on the role Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) currently plays for US employers, we spoke with Conrad Woody, Managing Partner of Odgers Berndston’s Washington Office, and Marty Belle, Partner at OrgShakers.

I would say in the US, the topic has always been more performative than really heartfelt,” Marty reflected. “For the majority of employers, it’s all about the bottom line… and if you’re not totally convinced that having a diverse and inclusive workplace drives profitability for you, you won’t focus on it.”

Conrad built on this, highlighting the fact that some employers are simply hiring people who look and act like their best workers because they believe this will ensure that their recruiting standards are always being met. “There is a commitment to conventional wisdom, because it’s easy to do – staying within your comfort zone is always easy!

It is a tough mindset to crack, but it is one that Conrad and his team take every opportunity to challenge. “What we’ve been doing in our practice is using radical honesty and authenticity to help clients understand and open up the aperture to be more inclusive in the recruiting process. And we’re also advising them on how to ensure that the environment that people arrive in is consistent with the reality they are trying to create.”

Meanwhile, for those companies that are trying to be diverse, Marty pointed out that there is another mindset ‘trap’ to be avoided: “Organizations tend to choose where they feel more comfortable ‘being different’.” In other words, they become comfortable hiring individuals from one or two underrepresented groups yet fail to achieve a broader mix of diversity dimensions.

On the other hand, Conrad pointed out, “there is also this sort of ‘everybody’s diverse’ thing that’s happening.”

I would agree, everyone is now in that conversation, because we are all unique, so that makes us diverse,” Marty offered, “But if you want to peel it back and say, ‘Well, where do I get my biggest innovation and creativity?’, then I would tell you that there are aspects of diversity that make the biggest difference. And that would be ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, marital status, physical ability, socio-economic status, religion, mental ability…to really drive the whole spectrum, you have to have those, what we might tend to call underrepresented groups or protected groups, in there. Otherwise, you’re not going to bring as much innovation to a complex problem as you could get with all of those broader elements.”

Diversity by itself doesn’t drive you to greater productivity,” Marty continued, “but diversity with inclusion does. And this means figuring out how to get that mix of people’s best thinking incorporated into solving a customer problem.”

And Conrad believed that figuring this out “really starts with our behavior as partners to our clients. If the Partners in our own firm don’t demonstrate inclusive behaviors, how can we authentically advise our clients on it?

To truly unlock the power that diversity and inclusion can offer your company”, Conrad continued, “you have to realize that it’s about how people with those identities see you and value you, and that you make the time to go and get to know these people, because then they’ll trust you to have their best interests at heart.”         

As well as this moral imperative, there is also the reality that millennial and Gen Z employees will no longer entertain non-inclusive companies, and so investors are quickly becoming more passionate about the social issues that organizations are pursuing. In this sense, there is a strong business case alongside the moral one to really make your culture a welcoming and inclusive one. So how do employers begin to close this gap and unlock the power of inclusion their business?

I might say just have the conversation,” Marty concluded, “and be okay that you don’t understand the topic. Be willing to see what you can learn and be vulnerable.”

Conrad agreed, “getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations is a huge step towards bridging into inclusive territory – knowing when to admit that you do not know everything simply opens up the opportunity for you to gain more knowledge and wisdom, and this is never wasted.”               

Copyright OrgShakers: The global HR consultancy for workplace transformation founded by David Fairhurst in 2020

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