Why Leaders Need To Focus On DEI Efforts Now More Than Ever

Equal employment and affirmative action laws enacted during the tumultuous 1960s are the roots of today’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Six decades and a global pandemic later, companies have come a long way from initial attempts to diversify their workforce. What began as simply “diversity” has become significantly more complex.

The pandemic changed the values of workers and the workplace itself forever. Employees are attracted to companies whose DEI efforts are more than skin deep. Social unrest surrounding racial injustice, civil liberties and the increasing perils of climate change have left workers asking their employers to make commitments to these types of issues as well.

It can sound like a lot of internal and external distractions corporate leaders would rather avoid than deal with. Many would prefer to concentrate only on producing a great product or service, gobbling up market share and enjoying increasing profits.

Although DEI is changing, it isn’t 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 kindness. Think Bombas, TOMS Shoes and, well, KIND. The practice of companies donating a product to those in need for every one sold is a notable kindness to the broader world. But charity, as they say, begins at home. What are companies doing to cultivate kindness among their own?

Some brands are evolving beyond simply trying to educate their employees about the value of understanding, appreciating and welcoming diversity. They are also incorporating kindness into their respective DEI strategies. Taking the time to truly see and hear individuals who are different from you not only helps everyone flourish, it also develops leadership capability, creates a growth mindset and drives performance.

This is Marissa Andrada’s philosophy. As Chipotle’s former Chief Diversity, Inclusion & People Officer, her mission was to co-create with leaders and team members an environment where each employee, at every level of the organization, can thrive and do their best work. This inclusive, equitable culture affected the business transformation and profitable growth for the company. As a DEI thought leader and in-demand speaker, Andrada refers to herself as a “Culture Master & Kindness Catalyst”. As such, she is passionate about helping companies create purpose-driven, high-performance cultures that are exponentially more meaningful than mere purveyors of products and services and successful at achieving business results.

The idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts is an ancient one. To be whole, though, every part—that is, every person—needs support and the opportunity to excel. Wholeness means no one does things at the expense of someone else, but for the greater good.

DEI Has Become Too Big to Fail

Large banks aren’t the only institutions deemed to be “too big to fail.” Company DEI policies also demand a bailout when they falter. The DEI concept has become too important to employees to risk failure.

The growth of DEI efforts has given rise to industry practitioners. But this development hasn’t yet resulted in any standardization of practices, measurements and analytics. Instead, every organization is finding its own way through something launched with the best of intentions but often at risk of collapsing under its own weight.

Most companies set diversity goals because they are easily measurable. But diversity goals alone do not make a DEI program. Determining what’s causing disparities and establishing targets for addressing the causes is more important.

Effective DEI programs must reflect a cultural shift, not merely a change in the number of underrepresented employees hired. Sound, thoughtful efforts don’t alienate anyone. Instead, they work toward drawing 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 constituting the workforce has arrived. Millennials have essentially become the full moon, with Generation Z rising rapidly. The generational shift is calling for changes in everything from technology to benefits to a company’s environmental, social, and governmental (ESG) policies.

This shift also demands real change in DEI efforts, driven by Gen Z’s inherent racial and ethnic diversity. Some 80% of Gen Z place a priority on DEI, and more than half of them want to see more diversity in leadership. At issue here is the fact that those approving DEI policies are much older and much less diverse than the predominant sectors of the workforce.

Company leadership would be wise to get out of the way of emerging generations who not only value diversity, but represent it. By letting them take the lead in developing DEI efforts, you’re both creating culture-altering results and growing your future leaders.

Boomers and Gen Xers in corporate leadership are sometimes flummoxed by diversity issues such as gender identity and by a workplace culture altered by shifting values and technology. Yet to the younger generations, particularly Gen Z, it’s life as they have always known it. Companies are going to have to catch up with them or lose them forever.

Non-Believers Need Not Apply

Companies that aren’t truly invested 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 find out why programs fail and what elements make them successful.

If you aren’t an ardent believer 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 this one is no longer an option.

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