- Guest Writer
Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives - Authenticity or Acting Under Pressure?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is a top concern for many organizations. While it is refreshing that companies are finally acknowledging major inequities and seem to genuinely want to act, I am only cautiously optimistic about what this means for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color who have been at the receiving end of opportunity deficits.
We have read the research – a diverse team will outperform and an inclusive work culture equals higher employee retention. To attract and retain a diverse workforce, companies realize they need to have a public plan of action. After all, inclusivity in the workplace is a motivating factor for 86% of job seekers (Monster, 2022). With the kind of employer benefits the research totes no wonder companies have dived headfirst into DEI strategy. It is energizing to see so much movement in this area and witness organizations coming forward with their plans for building an inclusive culture, but is it just an afterthought? Is it just a response to the competition for top-talent?
At my job, we started our internal DEI initiative back in April 2020. I am guessing that month and year will forever be etched in your mind as the start of the global pandemic for most Americans. The world shut down and a surreal, movielike storyline became our reality. A short six weeks later, the murder of George Floyd was broadcast around the world, and if an employer didn’t publicize – at minimum – a DEI statement, they were in the minority. I live in Minneapolis and was more than willing to be on my company’s DEI committee, but there was something that was nagging at me, specifically the timing. You see, our business is dependent on the profitability of our clients, many of whom implemented a hiring freeze at that time, which meant a lot of our work came to a screeching halt. People needed things to do, so leadership made the decision to proceed with our long-overdue DEI strategy planning and simultaneously launched five other initiatives. Suddenly our downtime problem was solved, so it felt like the start of the DEI work was primarily driven because our workload was light. There had been discussions about starting the DEI work months earlier but it was not considered a priority at that time. Since an internal initiative isn’t something we can bill for, it was put on the backburner. At least that was my perception.
It has now been over two years since we started this DEI effort and it is safe to say there has been progress; I know that everyone in our organization genuinely cares about inclusivity in the workplace, but on the other hand, it seems like there is a lack of tangible action. Yes, we have had seminars, focus groups and surveys, circulated articles, started a book club, hosted webinars, etc., but have those measures made our organization more inclusive? We put forth the effort: the committee worked hard researching tools, interviewing clients, working with leadership to make sure our practice areas were addressing the concerns identified through the interviews, and bringing in outside DEI experts to guide us along the way. But the book club was short-lived, and to be honest, there are only so many trainings and seminars a person can sit through. I have pondered a lot – is this too little, too late for us and other companies that have set in motion similar initiatives? Or should I appreciate how far we have come and celebrate those wins? Progress, not perfection is better than nothing, right?
As a middle-aged white woman, I have really struggled with what contribution I can make aside from what I have read, seen, and done within the context of my own job. I do not consider myself a “diverse candidate,” so I reached out to friends who do not identify as white to see what they had to say about authenticity and DEI as job- or would be jobseekers. As someone who always keeps an eye out for new opportunities and considers a job interview a potential development moment (advice from an old boss!), I wanted to make sure that I have an accurate perspective on what tangible DEI criteria I should be looking for when and if I start an active job search myself.
Here are the questions I posed to my friends and what they had to say:
1. So many companies have announced internal DEI initiatives in the past few years. What criteria are you looking for in an employer that shows they actually care about diversity and inclusivity and that it is not just something they have instituted for the sake of optics?
“Check out their leadership team and board of directors, it’s easy to do online. Minorities are grossly underrepresented in executive and board positions, so if a company has someone in the C-suite that looks like me it would be an attractive option.”
“A diverse staff. I expect that the person interviewing me can give me an elevator speech about their commitment to DEI. It’s important that they at least have a general overview,[sic] I wouldn’t expect them to start explaining their entire strategy.”
“A comprehensive interviewing process. Part of the process at my current employer was going through a culture-fit interview and I spoke about being gay to everyone during the screening and they were all allies. Accepting their offer was not a difficult decision – I took a pay cut to take my current position because of these things.”
2. When you think about Question #1, how do you research the employer to ensure they are practicing what they preach?
“Reviews from current or former employees are crucial. I check Glassdoor to see if they have a presence on the site.”
“Look very closely at their LinkedIn page to see what they have historically posted about their diversity initiatives.”
“I tend to look at their employees to see how diverse the team actually is!”
“You can usually get a feel for their culture by looking at their social media accounts. Do they actively post about DEI and helping the community or is it strictly business? I look for hashtags, pictures, events, and anything else that might offer good insight.”
“I read the job posting thoroughly. I’m always on high alert for stereotypes and gender-neutral job titles and pay attention to their use of pronouns overall.”
“During the interview I tend to be bold, so I ask about benefits, including what they offer for employee development as it relates to DEI.”
“I read their mission statement. Are they explicit about inclusivity?”
3. Now think about the opposite – what would eliminate an employer option? What are some signals that a company is simply paying lip service even if they have DEI policies in place and have made statement(s) indicating DEI as a company value?
“Negative employee reviews.”
“They only post a rainbow company logo during June on LinkedIn!”
“No BIPOC representation on their leadership team or board.”
“No public-facing DEI statements.”
“If they can’t answer my questions related to what their DEI efforts are, I question if there are any. That’s a red flag for me.”
4. When interviewing, are there any specific questions you'd like to share with others that help to further probe an organization's commitment to having an inclusive workplace?
“How many minorities and specifically LGBTQ team members are on staff?”
“What do they do to ensure that they are making a difference in the community?”
“How much do they focus on hiring a diverse team?”
“What makes them different from any other employer when it comes to diversity?”
“Why would I, as a minority, want to work with them?”
“Can they give examples of how they foster an inclusive culture?”
“Where can their organization improve in terms of DEI in the workplace?”
Whether or not you are looking for a new job, my hope is that this discussion is thought-provoking.
Job seekers, will you be adding any new DEI-related criteria to your job search based on something you read here? Or maybe you are satisfied with your current employer but feel that their DEI strategy could be improved upon. Perhaps some of these responses have sparked an idea you can bring to your DEI team or senior leadership like they have for me. I am now bringing these insights back to my fellow DEI committee members to see how we can incorporate them and other perspectives we have gathered into an actionable plan.
In closing, while there has been positive movement towards DEI in the workplace, the bottom line is that there is a lot more work to be done. We should all be thinking about how we can personally advocate for our Black, Indigenous, and other coworkers of color, then work together and take real action.
Monster Research, 2022, Diversity Equity and Inclusion: Going Beyond Good Intentions, https://hiring.monster.com/resources/e-books-and-reports/diversity-equity-and-inclusion-hiring-guide