Detaching Diversity: It’s Time to Take the “D” out of DEI

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Sep 23, 2020

Few would argue that Beyoncé isn’t an incredible talent. As a commercial and cultural phenom, Beyoncé has successfully blazed her own path and is fulfilling her true potential as a world-class musician and icon. To achieve this feat, however, Beyoncé had to do something controversial: leave Destiny’s Child. 

Where am I going with this?

When I look at the elements of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), I’m struck with a compelling idea. To truly stand on its own and bring about meaningful change at scale, diversity needs to decouple itself from equity and inclusion. 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion should have great synergy, but they are not the same. The way we focus on advancing them isn’t the same either. After all, you can have a diverse workforce that isn’t equitable and inclusive. You can also have an equitable and inclusive culture without being diverse. When either of these scenarios exist, it is likely that talent won’t stay as long as you’d like. That could cost your business valuable time, money, and irreparable reputational damage.

But there is a solution.

Equity and inclusion need to become the foundational aspects of culture and employer brand, woven into the very fabric of a company’s DNA by design. By starting with equity and inclusion, diversity strategy can then be built separately on top of a truly equitable and inclusive culture. 

This is the only way to effectively shape the culture and employer brand in an aspirational direction of what you hope to achieve. In doing so, diversity can go solo and become a clear, focused, and independent strategy that is truly given the spotlight it deserves.

Equity and Inclusion Come First

First, it’s worth taking a step back to acknowledge the role and value of diversity in the workplace. By now, it’s no secret that companies that embrace diversity have a far better chance of enjoying success. Of course, diversity on its own is not enough. To reap the rewards of a diverse workforce, you need to have a culture that has equity and inclusion.

Suppose an organization decides that it needs to hire a more diverse workforce, so it seeks out new talent across the entire diversity spectrum: age, gender, ethnicity, sexual identification, socioeconomic status, and so on. While the intention is laudable, the execution is often scant. It also fails to bring about lasting cultural change. 

Too often, organizations start by addressing diversity and build inclusion and equity on top of that. But companies are better off doing the reverse. 

Investing in a diversity strategy might be enough to attract talent, but simply hiring a more diverse workforce doesn’t solve the core issues that define your culture. Without a strong foundation of equity and inclusion, employees will not perform optimally and will fail to find a sense of purpose, impact, and belonging. Consequently, they will see through the mirage and eventually leave the organization. 

To solve for this, equity and inclusion must become the backbone of culture and employer brand. When equity and inclusion are embedded in a company’s DNA from the start, you set the stage for a culture that welcomes and embraces diversity. Companies are also better able to articulate who they are, what they have to offer, and  what they expect and demand as employers in return. This is the only way to have any meaningful chance of reaching employees and candidates on a personal and long-lasting level.

Employer Brand Needs to Own Equity and Inclusion

At present, we ask diversity experts to steer and push equity and inclusion agendas forward, but this may actually be hindering the rate of progress. To build an inclusive, fair, and equitable organization that is rich in diversity requires a host of talented individuals. This village of well-informed, educated, and aligned stakeholders must work from one core vision with all the essential ingredients at its core.

Employer branding is an important part of that vision for equity and inclusion and can help to efficiently and effectively inject it into all other aspects of HR that touch employees and candidates. Separate and specific initiatives (such as awareness campaigns) can then be conducted from a central position of strength and reach, with the continuity and consistency required to affect real change and drive improvement.  

In doing so, you can educate an organization about DEI expectations, where the company is moving, and then demonstrate this commitment by explicitly showing how people can contribute to and effect change. This applies to leadership, senior management, and entry-level positions. 

What Does This Mean for Diversity?

By separating diversity out, it can become a clear, focused, and independent (but closely entwined) strategy that is truly given the spotlight it deserves. Organizations can then align diversity metrics with the vision and strategic plan of the employer brand and organization. For example:

  • What balance of diversity increases productivity, efficiency, and ENPS per team? 
  • What balance or disproportionate diversity can provide more creativity or innovation in a team? 
  • What degree of internal mobility optimizes the benefits and results of diversity? 
  • How can the continual learning of our diversity balance improve our learning, development, rewards and recognition, and other key initiatives?

Still, unlocking the true potential of organizational diversity is still a long way off. This is a reality that many companies need to accept to set themselves on the path towards meaningful change. As a first step, we need to cover the basic level of diversity management, which most organizations are sadly lacking. Only then can we start to ask more advanced and exciting questions. 

To get there will require focus, re-prioritization, and increased accountability throughout the organization. Moreover, it will require the clarity that can only be found when diversity is planned, executed, and reported on in isolation. 

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