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Why leaders need to focus on DEI efforts now more than ever

by Ana Lopez
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Equal employment and affirmative action laws enacted during the tumultuous 1960s are the foundation of current diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Six decades and a global pandemic later, companies have come a long way since the first attempts to diversify their workforce. What started out as just ‘diversity’ has become considerably more complex.

The pandemic has forever changed the values ​​of employees and the workplace itself. Employees are attracted to companies whose DEI efforts are more than superficial. Social unrest around racial injustice, civil liberties and the rising dangers of climate change have led workers to ask their employers to make commitments on these issues as well.

It may sound like a lot of internal and external distractions that business leaders would rather avoid than deal with. Many would prefer to focus solely on producing a great product or service, gobbling up market share and enjoying increasing profits.

Although DEI is changing, it is not going away. Leaders need to focus on their DEI strategies now more than ever. Here are a few reasons why.

Kindness counts

Corporate America is full of brands that embrace friendliness. Think Bombas, TOMS Shoes and, well, KIND. The practice of companies donating a product to those in need for every product sold is a remarkable kindness to the rest of the world. But charity begins, as they say, at home. What are companies doing to cultivate friendliness among their own customers?

Some brands go beyond trying to educate their employees about the value of understanding, appreciating and welcoming diversity. They are also incorporating friendliness in their respective DEI strategies. Taking the time to really see and hear people who are different from you not only helps everyone to thrive, it also develops leadership skills, creates a growth mindset and boosts performance.

This is Marisa Andrea‘s philosophy. As a former Chief Diversity, Inclusion & People Officer of Chipotle, her mission was to work with leaders and team members to create an environment where every employee, at every level of the organization, can thrive and do their best work. This inclusive, equitable culture impacted business transformation and profitable growth of the company. As a DEI opinion leader and frequent speaker, Andrada calls herself a “Culture Master & Kindness Catalyst”. As such, she is passionate about helping companies create purposeful, powerful cultures that are exponentially more meaningful than mere suppliers of products and services and are successful in driving business results.

The idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts has been around for centuries. But to be whole, every part, that is, every person, needs support and the ability to excel. Wholeness means that no one does things at someone else’s expense, but for the greater good.

DEI has grown too big to fail

Big banks are not the only institutions considered ‘too big to fail’. The company’s DEI policy also calls for a bailout if they falter. The DEI concept has become too important for employees to risk failure.

The growth of DEI efforts has led to industry practitioners. But this development has not yet led to standardization of methods, measurements and analyses. Instead, each organization finds its own way through something that was launched with the best of intentions, but often risks collapsing under its own weight.

Most companies set diversity goals because they are easily measurable. But diversity goals alone don’t make a DEI program. It is more important to identify the cause of inequalities and set targets to address the causes.

Effective DEI programs must reflect a cultural shift, not just a change in the number of underrepresented employees hired. Good, thoughtful efforts alienate no one. Instead, they work to bring everyone together as DEI grows organically and takes on a larger than life role of its own.

The generational shift is here

The shift in the generations that make up the workforce is here. Millennials have essentially become the full moon, with Generation Z rising fast. The turn of generations calls for changes in everything from technology to benefits to a company’s environmental, social and government (ESG) policies.

This shift also requires a real change in DEI efforts, driven by the inherent racial and ethnic diversity of Gen Z. Some 80% of Generation Z prioritize DEI, and more than half of them want to see more diversity in leadership. The point here is that those who endorse DEI policies are much older and much less diverse than the predominant sectors of the workforce.

Corporate leadership would be wise to steer clear of emerging generations who not only value diversity, but represent it. By letting them take the lead in developing DEI efforts, you create culture-changing outcomes as well as your future leaders.

Boomers and Gen Xers in business leaders are sometimes stunned by diversity issues such as gender identity and by a workplace culture that is changing due to shifting values ​​and technology. But for the younger generations, especially Gen Z, life is as they’ve always known it. Companies will have to catch up or lose them forever.

Non-believers do not need to apply

Companies that don’t really invest in making their workplace one where diversity, acceptance, respect and value apply to every employee will fail at DEI. At this point in the growth of the DEI industry, there are opportunities to learn why programs fail and what elements make them successful.

If you don’t fervently believe in DEI’s contribution to your company’s success, you’re well behind the curve. DEI policies that are little more than lip service may be good enough for older workers, but not for the emerging workforce. In a world where the ability to pivot has become the key to success, not making it is no longer an option.

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