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Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has never been more important. The pandemic created historical and structural prejudices more eye-catching than ever, and an increase in public control over social injustices drove business to take action.
Organizational DEI policies – the active steps to ensure an open and accepting workplace where people of different ethnicities, genders, abilities, cultures and personalities have representation, opportunity and support – have become critical to attracting and recruiting talent and to stay innovative. But most companies today should be fine.
In reality, “doing it right” is an iterative process. No one has to do well today; committed to “doing better”. Adopting this attitude makes a big difference in spreading a company’s caring culture. It lets people be wary and come forward authentically and honestly. The way to get DEI “right” is to realize the ways in which we still don’t get it right today and try to do it better.
Related: Here’s How To Have The Most Powerful DEI Conversations
The work is never finished
Spoiler alert – the job of a DEI leader is never done. If leaders conclude that they have succeeded in removing all visible and invisible barriers to give everyone equal access to opportunities to thrive, guess what? Another reveals itself that needs to be addressed.
But we can’t just tick boxes. Our best DEI efforts come from listening and learning from each other in the workplace. We can continuously develop new programs, resources and forums with team input. We need to identify barriers or concerns when they arise and address them to create an emotionally safe work environment for all in the hope that it will improve over time.
CI&T is a multicultural organization and the different geographic contexts generate different sets of intersectionality between cultures on different bases. When we developed an employee staff group to support the unique distance learning needs of parents with children, those meetings raised another concern. We found that several employees who had moved from Brazil to the US did not understand not only our education system, but also our benefits program. We didn’t explain it in a way they would know, because not only is English not their first language, but the whole “system” under which we natives inherently operate in the US was foreign to them as well.
That employee resource group has shifted to supporting our people moving to North America. We helped with some life skills, such as finding a school for their children. We’ve helped with resources available to parents if their child is neurodivergent – even making doctor’s appointments for the first time using a complex insurance portal. By being open to input, we saw the emerging need and responded to the needs of our ex-pat employees, juggling the cultural acclimation of their complex families.
Related: Here’s How to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in a Remote Work World
Always be agile
To get DEI right, you must be willing and willing to adapt. During the pandemic, when people started mobilizing for justice for George Floyd, we knew we had to do something. In an ordinary world, we as an organization would have come together personally to support each other. But the pandemic made everything more complicated.
So for a few weeks we tried to open a space at the end of our Friday staff meetings where people could gather, talk and connect. I was the facilitator and it was going great – until it stopped going. A conversation became awkward between two people who walk in very different shoes. The safe space I thought I was offering people was suddenly unsafe. I immediately felt out of my wheelhouse. I reached out to each of them this weekend and not only did I resolve the conflict, but each of them grew out of it as they developed more empathy for each other’s journey. I realized I was over my head about the actual problem.
We didn’t know what we didn’t know about DEI, but we knew enough to realize we needed more experts and expertise or we would be wrong. So we brought in a consultant and organized many workshops, starting with the board. We had a space after each to collect feedback for ways to improve. And each time we got a little better because we weren’t afraid to ask for feedback to learn so we could improve.
Related: How to Restructure Your Organization with DEI at the forefront
Go above and beyond
Even if we think we are moving the needle, getting DEI right means we should always move it further until true equality is achieved. There are many iterations of DEI, many different marginalized groups, and many areas of intersectionality. Women, trans women, black/tan trans women, black trans women who are single mothers, etc. — those different identities need different levels of support. The limitless ways different needs can intersect and change is why we should always look for better help and support beyond what the company already does and admit when we’re wrong.
DEI is an iterative improvement process, so make a “what-can-we-better” policy the norm. At our company, we are building a culture where people can peel off our different layers of diversity, never afraid to go above and beyond to provide the best support for everyone. We are not afraid to be vulnerable, admit what we don’t know and do our best to improve.
After all, we are all humans living in different realities, with different backgrounds and experiences, each trying to appear in the world. Giving everyone from those different worlds equal access to resources and opportunities requires constant evaluation and adaptation as we continue to peel back the layers and find new ways to improve. When leaders build a culture of care that aligns the entire business around DEI as something they can always do better, DEI is done right.
Related: How DEI and Sustainability Can Boost Your Earnings Triple