For half a century, I’ve been living, studying and navigating what we now call diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). For nearly 30 years, I’ve been working in that field, starting as a social services coordinator in riot-torched, gang-occupied, Latino immigrant-swollen Los Angeles. I believe only two things have meaningfully changed in all that time. One, tipping-point percentages of (White) people now recognize that racism – both bigotry and structural racism – are not only real, but a credible threat to our nation. Two, growing numbers now understand that diversity and inclusion aren’t enough – that equity is also necessary for healthy workplaces as well as communities.
Spurred by such new understanding, well-intended leaders are swarming DEI consultants seeking the antidote to their employees’ cries for change, or their own sinking suspicion that something may be rotten in their kingdoms. However, most are still making the same mistakes leaders have made for decades.
The five most common mistakes leaders make when embarking on a DEI journey are:
- They launch a training program right away – without identifying learning gaps, learning objectives, or whether or not training will solve their problem.
- They do more talking and don’t get to action – like holding listening sessions, or “conversations” that repeat already-known themes and require those most disadvantaged by inequities to be the most vulnerable.
- They put those most disadvantaged by inequities in charge of solving them – like the one woman, person of color (or woman of color) on the leadership team, adding emotional labor as well as additional work to their already-overflowing plates.
- They put those with limited or absent expertise in charge of DEI – like their CHRO or a human resources director (they deal with people, so they must have DEI expertise!).
- They launch a DEI initiative without clear goals, a business case or knowledge of where they are.
We’ve seen cities burn before. We’ve seen organizations falter over social issues before. Racism didn’t emerge overnight, and it’s not going away overnight. It’s been woven into the fabric of our nation for 401 years, and it’s only going to fade with intentional, creative, sustainable change. It’s only going to fray when we weave a new fabric of different ways of thinking, feeling and acting.
To that end, stop what you’re doing right now with DEI … unless and until you can answer the following four questions:
- Where are we? What is your current state with regards to diversity, equity and inclusion? How do you know? This goes far beyond looking at the colors and genders of the bodies in your organization. How does talent flow through your organization? What are your unwritten norms and culture? What are your systems and processes? How do these impact your people and your outcomes? What do your numbers and your voices tell you? While certain themes are common in different industries and sectors, each organization is unique in meaningful ways.
- Where do we want to go? What are your strategic DEI goals? How will those DEI goals help you solve an existing pressing problem that keeps your leadership up at night? Or how will those goals take you from good to great? Get you in front of an emerging trend? DEI isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have because the science is clear that DEI equips organizations to solve any critical issue as long as you (a) need to achieve your goals through human beings, (b) need to solve problems, (c) need to make accurate predictions, and/or (d) need to innovate. What strategic DEI goals will help you improve your bottom line, better align with your values, and more effectively fulfill your mission?
- Why do we want to go there? Why are those strategic DEI goals important and strategic for your bottom line, values and/or mission? What’s your business case?
- How can we get there? How do we go from where we are to where we want to go? How do we execute on our goals with specific, tangible, prioritized action items? How do we ensure accountability, ownership and excellence?
Unless you have the answers to these four questions, you’re throwing darts at a moving dart board in the dark. You’re setting out into the wilderness in a fog with no clue about your destination, no compass, no map, inadequate footwear and no backpack of important supplies. You’re wasting time, talent and budget. And you’re making the same old mistakes and helping keep the collective stuck, adding to the perception that DEI doesn’t work.
Just like any other strategic objective or priority, DEI doesn’t work unless it’s done right – with the right information, and the right people granted enough resources, support and authority to ensure it gets done.
At Words, Wisdom and Wellness, we help you answer all four questions.
Through our robust and rigorous Equity Evaluation TM, we leverage our collective 75 years of experience to answer question #1 for you by conducting a comprehensive analysis of both your numbers and your story. Through facilitated dialogue, powerful coaching questions, expert insight and deep listening, we help you answer questions #2 and #3 (which also inform how we answer question #1). These steps help you decide on your destination, calibrate your compass, determine what to wear and how to pack for the journey, and who to bring along during which phase! Then, based on the answers to those three questions, we answer question #4 by providing you with a detailed, concrete, prioritized Action Plan for Equity and a planning matrix that equips you to take meaningful, accountable action. That’s your map.
Don’t set out into the fog with no destination, no compass and no map. Don’t waste time, talent and budget. Ask these four questions and insist on answers before taking a single step. Be the change by taking the time to do DEI right. Do your part to create a world that works better for more of us. And let us share the burden by helping outfit you for success.