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When it Comes to DE&I, There Are No Shortcuts

Equity, inclusion, and fairness are in the spotlight now more than ever before.  Employees and consumers are paying greater attention to DE&I and company values—both of which can make or break an organization—and employers are focused on strengthening inclusivity within their organizations. An analysis of earnings calls with S&P 500 CEOs found that the frequency with which they talk about these three factors has increased by 658% since 2018.

While that’s a step in the right direction, this shift in focus doesn’t necessarily equate to lasting change. In fact, 80% of companies are just “going through the motions,” relying on surface-level tactics—like bias training and diversity hiring—that give them a false sense of achievement and lack accountability.

People want to feel a sense of belonging and that their overall well-being is prioritized. And when that’s not the case, we’re seeing employees voting with their feet and moving on to an employer that prioritizes those aspects of the employee experience. Unconvinced? A toxic workplace culture is the top predictor of turnover and 10.4x more likely to contribute to an employee leaving than compensation is.

So, how do you make equity, inclusion, and fairness a sustainable, core component of your organization? We’ve partnered with Daniel Oppong—founder of The Courage Collective, a DE&I training and consulting firm for the modern workplace—to get his expert take:

Cultural Transformation Takes Time, Resources, and Sustained Intentionality

The last two years have revealed one simple, but poignant truth: we have a long way to go.

In the wake of the devastating murder of George Floyd, many employers (re)actively engaged Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives, offering grandiose promises about their commitment to equity and justice. Since then, many of these efforts waned, and promises never materialized. Though often earnest in nature, organizations continue to miss one salient point: cultural transformation takes time, resources, and sustained intentionality.

This simple, but profound idea is directly in conflict with our current culture of immediacy. Brands like Amazon, Instagram, and DoorDash have popularized the notion that we can have anything we want with just the click of a button. Need to order something for your home? Amazon probably has it. Need an escape or some affirmation? Get on Instagram. Hungry? Why wait. DoorDash has you covered.

Unfortunately, DEI doesn’t work this way – especially when it comes to creating an inclusive culture and attracting people from marginalized groups. The short-sighted and under-resourced approach has produced underwhelming results.

Many organizations see Talent Acquisition as their DEI “fix all,” which usually leads to the popular suggestion of recruiting at HBCUs or HSIs. What many fail to realize is that successful talent acquisition strategies – especially at HBCUs & HSIs – should first be relational, not transactional. Helicoptering into a community without investing the time, resources, and energy to build relational equity is a losing game, and won’t lead to lasting results.

Creating Opportunity: Culture Fit vs. Culture Add

Another variable that compounds this issue is that when it comes to talent acquisition, many companies fixate on the idea of “culture fit” rather than culture add. The problem with “culture fit”is that it is largely predicated on homogeneity, and brings in people who already reflect the current cultural norms.

A recent conversation with a Senior Talent Acquisition executive epitomizes this issue. His team was focused on building relationships with students at HBCUs. At one particular university, their efforts were so successful that it resulted in dozens of students applying for open roles within the organization. Unfortunately, almost all of the candidates from the HBCU were screened out and never made it to the final interview or offer stage. He shared how this essentially ruined their reputation with the students at the HBCU and created a reticence from candidates at that institution to pursue career opportunities at the organization.

Sadly, this is a rather common occurrence. Research shows that when candidates “whiten their resumes,” they have a higher likelihood of getting call-backs. Additionally, many hiring processes are rife with bias and don’t give candidates from underrepresented groups a real opportunity. (Brian Flores is currently taking this grievance up against the NFL).

Instead of making hiring processes a charismatic or popularity contest, companies should: 1) Focus on the core competencies that would make someone successful in the role; 2) Develop a robust and intentional onboarding process to help the new hire quickly get up to speed (this is even more critical in our hybrid/virtual environment);  3) Have mentorship and professional development opportunities in place to ensure that the new hire is successful; 4) Create clear performance metrics and feedback loops so that the employee knows what success looks like.

Once companies accept the fact that the most qualified candidate doesn’t have to be of the pale, male and Yale variety, folks from underrepresented groups and untraditional backgrounds might actually have a fair shot. It’s time to stop blaming the illusionary “pipeline problem” and start building meaningful relationships.

It’s About the (Employee) Journey

Finally, it’s important to note that an effective DEI strategy must be focused on the entire employee journey. Yes, hiring more Black & Brown folks is important, but the incessant need to focus exclusively on talent acquisition is one dimensional, and misses one critical component: the employee experience.

Much emphasis has been placed on the Great Resignation and the way that employees have quit their jobs in record numbers over the last two years. One storyline highlights the “worker shortage”, but Dan Price of Gravity Payments has a different point of view. He says, “There is no labor shortage. There’s a shortage of jobs that treat people with respect.”

His statement underscores the idea that employers who are intentional about evaluating the efficacy of their talent acquisition strategy, while also meaningfully investing in their employee experience, are the places where people want to work.

Instead of focusing linearly on increased representation, an organization should think holistically and ask questions like: “Even if we hire more people from underrepresented groups, will they stay? What will their experience be like? Are our policies, procedures, and systems designed to ensure that people from underrepresented groups thrive, not just survive?”

When employers say “bring your whole self to work”, there must be an understanding that it means different things to different people. The challenge is for employers to consider the unique identities that employees bring to the organization, and design their culture in a way that people from all backgrounds and identities can grow.

Dr. Crystal Jones posits, “There’s a big difference between the ideas ‘All are welcome here,’ and ‘This was created with you in mind’.” The latter of which is what organizations should aspire to.

An organization’s DEI strategy should encompass the entire employee journey. And frankly, the entire employee journey would benefit tremendously from being reimagined through a DEI lens. Yes, talent acquisition is important, but so is your external messaging and brand position.  So are Employee Resources Groups, employee recognition and meaningful growth opportunities. So are exit interviews and retention and attrition data. A successful DEI strategy is holistic, human-centered and well resourced. And if a company is truly committed, it will show in their actions, not just their words.

 


 

About the Courage Collective…

The Courage Collective is a consultancy that takes a strategic, holistic, and human-centered approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. The company focuses on embedding DEI across the entire employee journey in order to create meaningful impact. They recently launched a talent brand called Boundless, that is designed to create access for Black and Brown folks in marketing, consulting, and tech – all industries that have historically lacked representation.

For more information on The Courage Collective’s approach and services is available at thecouragecollective.co.

 

Daniel Oppong is the Founder of The Courage Collective, a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultancy that takes a strategic, holistic and human centered approach to DEI work. He is also the Founder of Boundless, a platform designed to create access for underrepresented identity groups – specifically Black & Brown folks – pursuing career opportunities in Marketing, Consulting and Tech. His professional background includes work in Entrepreneurship, Venture Capital, Tech, Education, Consulting and the Nonprofit Sector. His academic background includes a Bachelor’s degree in Education, and Master's degree in Organizational Leadership.
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