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Top 10 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Trends and Recommendations: 2020 and Beyond

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Top 10 Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Trends & Recommendations

Trends Summary

  1. Fatigue, Overwhelm, Cynicism
  2. Data, Data, Data
  3. Executives: Oblivious, Scared, Frustrated, Committed
  4. Distributed Teams, Global Strategies
  5. Integrated and Skills-Based Inclusive Leadership Training Programs
  6. Sophisticated DEI Teams and Roles
  7. Accountability through Performance Management
  8. Broadened Definition of “Diversity” — the Good, the Bad, the Ugly
  9. Reinvigoration of Employee Resource Groups
  10. Movement towards Social Justice

1. Fatigue, Overwhelm, Cynicism

“It is damn hard to expand the limits of our empathy when our emotional attention is already stretched too thin.” — Roxane Gay

  • Be specific in describing the “fatigue” — don’t just say “diversity fatigue” because it can further perpetuate the idea that people are tired of talking about DEI (people are not tired of “diversity” — how can you be tired of it when you don’t have it?!). Instead, try saying “Inaction Fatigue” or “Inertia Fatigue,” “Compassion Fatigue, or “Lack of Progress Fatigue,” which are more accurate in describing the real issue and can shift the conversations to focus on solutions to breathe energy back into the work.
  • Address these emotions head on and incorporate ideas around self-care and community-care into your strategy. Create space for people to discuss their feelings of overwhelm, frustration, and fatigue, and remind people to take care of themselves so they can stay engaged. Share self-care tips and invest in mental health resources, especially for those directly involved in advancing DEI at your organization.

2. Data, Data, Data

  • If launching a separate inclusion survey is not feasible, incorporate a select number of questions into your existing employee engagement or climate survey. Simple yet powerful questions such as “I feel like I belong at this company” or “I can be my authentic self at this company” can be a good starting place.
  • Create more specific recommendations based on intersectional, disaggregated, and team-based data analysis — are there noticeable trends among groups identifying with 2 or more marginalized identities? Should “People of Color” or “Asian American” be further disaggregated to pinpoint specific issues and solutions? Is there a pattern of turnover on certain teams managed by certain leaders? Remember, inclusion and belonging experiences are driven largely by team cultures.
  • Not all data points should be treated with equal weight. Make sure you’re not dismissing key data points due to the small sample size of the underrepresented employee population (“why worry when only 5% of population says we have a problem?”). If 90% of White men say your workplace is doing great on inclusion but only 20% of women of color agree…please, investigate.
  • Data can be extremely helpful but be careful not to get stuck in inaction mode while trying to figure out the best way to collect data or overanalyzing existing data. There are things you can do with or without data — every organization can benefit from having more awareness, inclusive benefits, and more equitable processes. You don’t need to wait for a graph to tell you that!

3. Executives: Oblivious, Scared, Frustrated, Committed

  • Oblivious: Completely unaware the organization (or themselves) has DEI issues or grossly underestimates the problem. They send their HR or DEI team on a never ending goose-chase of justifying their budget with iron-clad ROI analysis and data. They will dismiss, trivialize, or seek to do the bare minimum to appease the vocal few.
  • Scared: They’re feeling the pressure from all angles. They’re scared to make the wrong move or say the wrong things and cause irreversible damage to their reputation or company brand. They focus on legal advice, compliance driven training, and won’t stop asking for “the list of things they’re not supposed to say in public.” They don’t openly champion DEI, not because they don’t care, but because they don’t want to mess up, often leading to inaction and delegation without true sponsorship.
  • Frustrated: They believe they’re doing enough, more than enough, and feel frustrated when their employees disagree. Why aren’t the numbers moving? (hint: centuries of systemic oppression) Why are people still unhappy? What more can I possibly do and how much more do we need to spend? They care but fail to understand just how deep and wide the challenges are and the fact that real progress will take much longer than their quarterly OKRs. They halt programs and cut budgets when they start to feel their efforts are futile or they’re not getting enough credit for them. In extreme cases, they’ll switch out the guards by firing the head of DEI or HR, or silencing vocal employees. #yikes
  • Committed: They understand the importance and the urgency of addressing DEI issues. They’re often committed to DEI well beyond the “business case” — they’re motivated and inspired at a deeply intrinsic level and are committed to the long-term change. They share the burden of trying out different solutions and making iterative improvements without making rash decisions. They listen to their employees’ concerns and hold other leaders accountable. They understand they may make mistakes (and they do, like all of us), but when mistakes occur, they own it and apologize and do better. I promise, these execs do exist IRL.
  • Engage the exec team as early as possible and support their learning through carefully curated milestones. Achieve leadership alignment on the what and why of DEI: can all of the leaders talk about why DEI is important, not just reciting a marketing slogan, but through their genuine, authentic understanding of the issues facing their employees?
  • Ensure every major DEI initiative has an executive sponsor. Do your ERGs have executive sponsors? How are they engaging? Do your DEI training programs have executive sponsors? How can you leverage them to drive participation and engagement?
  • Build grassroots, bottom-up momentum by engaging middle managers and employees — use their enthusiasm and honest feedback to influence change at the executive leadership level.

4. Distributed Teams, Global Strategies

  • Don’t underestimate the time and resources required for effective localization efforts — “Diversity” in the U.S. means something very different than diversity in Asia or Europe. Have you ever seen a U.S. centric diversity training fall completely flat in Asia because they don’t know how issues around “race” translates to its racially homogeneous workplace? We have.
  • When developing a global DEI strategy, partner with local employees and partners to understand the context before making assumptions about what will work in each region.
  • Virtual learning experiences are in demand, but early results and effectiveness vary greatly. Balance in-person and remote learning experiences — test out different methods and measure the impact to find the right mix for your organization.

5. Integrated and Skills-Based Inclusive Leadership Training Programs

  • Design a holistic learning journey that go beyond Unconscious Bias Training (Unconscious Bias Training is still important and foundational — but what comes after is just as important, if not more!)
  • Integrate critical inclusive leadership skills into core manager competencies. Provide specific skills-development training programs covering topics such as inclusive hiring, debiasing feedback and performance evaluations, allyship, and creating a culture of psychological safety.

6. Sophisticated DEI Teams and Roles

  • Inclusion Business Partners: Works with different functions / departments to advise on inclusion and equity related matters (mirroring HRBP roles)
  • Accessibility Testers: Ensures the company’s products and services are accessible to the end users
  • DEI Curriculum Designers: Partners with Learning and Development to infuse inclusive leadership skills into all development programs
  • DEI Program Managers: Plans and oversees execution of various DEI programs from Employee Resource Groups to monthly events
  • Map out how and where DEI knowledge is needed across your organization (e.g., HR, Product, Customer Success, Sales, etc.), prioritize, then determine how to fill the need.
  • For smaller organizations with limited budget / headcount, you may need to start by creating a task force that can dedicate time to assessing and advising cross-functionally, or finding external help until you can build internal capacity. If using internal employees, ensure fair and equitable compensation for their contributions!

7. Accountability through Performance Management

  • Treat inclusive behaviors as a performance issue, rather than a personality issue (e.g., “oh that’s just how he is” “he’s like that with everyone”). Establish concrete protocols for managing behaviors that are non-inclusive or toxic.
Tweet by Nicole Sanchez: “Using the correct pronouns for co-workers is a job performance issue”
  • Ensure there is a clear way to evaluate individuals’ inclusiveness during performance management. Many companies use their company values as a framework to have behavioral conversations or create a specific evaluation criteria around DEI. This way, people who are exceptionally aware and involved in creating an inclusive team environment can get the credit they deserve, while those who need to improve can receive a clear nudge.

8. Broadened Definition of “Diversity” — the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

  • The good: historically oppressed and marginalized social identity groups beyond white women are starting to be considered in DEI initiatives. Expanding the conversation to be inclusive of race, gender (beyond the binary), sexual orientation, disability, mental health, citizenship status, socioeconomic class, etc. is a huge sign of progress and allows for more thoughtful programs that prioritize intersectionality.
  • The bad: false equivalencies are everywhere. In an effort to broaden the scope, we’re observing many conflate historically marginalized social identities with personality traits, and confuse promoting inclusion with allowing all behaviors without discernment. For example, some organizations are prioritizing making the workplace more inclusive for introverted people while not extending the same level of effort to discuss racial disparities. Some leaders are conflating “freedom of speech” with blanketly allowing all kinds of speech, even ones that promote bullying and exclusion. Unfortunately, drawing false equivalencies between historically marginalized populations and those who have not been systemically oppressed dilute and co-opt the much needed movement to correct ongoing social injustices.
  • The ugly: “diversity of thought” is a term sometimes used to justify the lack of demographic diversity, asserting that there is still diversity even when the group looks the same (again, centering personality differences or different areas of professional expertise). Dismissing the importance of demographic diversity can have a detrimental effect on advancing DEI as it diverts from the actual mission.
  • Clearly define what you mean by “Diversity” as an organization. It’s okay to prioritize the most underrepresented and marginalized identities (in fact, we encourage it).
  • Clarify what you mean by “inclusion” or “belonging” too: Focus on the inclusion of whom? Who needs to feel like they belong? (hint: it’s not the “brilliant jerk” who complains about having to stop being a jerk)
  • Be specific in naming issues facing specific identity groups — for example, in tech, it’s not enough to say “people of color are underrepresented” — it’d be more accurate to say BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color), Latinx, or South East Asians are underrepresented, since East Asians tend to be overrepresented in tech (although still underrepresented in senior leadership positions!).
  • Understand the difference between social identities and personal identities and prioritize your DEI efforts around creating fair and inclusive experiences for historically marginalized social identity groups.

9. Investment in Employee Resource Groups

  • Compensate ERG leaders for their efforts. Here’s how some organizations are doing it: special professional development opportunities, financial rewards / year end bonus, ensuring their contribution is counted towards their performance evaluation, etc.
  • Educate all managers on the importance of ERGs — ensure they don’t penalize their team members for participating or leading ERG efforts.
  • Encourage ERG leaders to seek self-care resources and provide concrete options (e.g., mental health benefits, self-care stipend, etc.).

10. Movement towards Social Justice

  • Determine your organizational criteria on when and how to address political issues — which issues impact the workforce directly? Which issues align closely with our organizational values? Which issues require our perspective and participation? Which issues are we accountable to and responsible for solving?
  • Empower all managers to create a culture of psychological safety that allows employees to proactively surface issues they are passionate about or impacted by without fearing penalty.

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Michelle MiJung Kim

Author, THE WAKE UP: CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN GOOD INTENTIONS AND REAL CHANGE 📚 | CEO, Awaken | Activist | Speaker | www.MichelleMiJungKim.com