The opportunity for action on DE&I after a year of protest

As organizations look to assess their progress over the past year, here are some of the ways you should look to have an impact.

The spring 2020 season of upheaval and unrest was a defining moment in our lifetime and U.S. history: a pandemic that shattered norms, socioeconomic gaps driven deeper—and a renewed, keener understanding of racism in America.

In that moment, many organizations took a harder look at equity, justice, diversity and inclusion, trying to figure out what to say, what to do—trying to figure out their greater societal role and responsibility. And in that process, my advice, stripped down to its simplest, common denominator, has been: Do more. Make progress.

Be a part of greater progress that affects humanity, but also be part of progress that leads to more engaged internal constituencies, progress that enables your organization to thrive and will have positive ripple effects across your communities and economies for years and decades to come.

To do that, rely on best practices such as:

  • Listen and learn, not just during historic demarcations, but continuously.
  • Be authentic and honest about where your organization is on its journey and what needs work.
  • Dig deeper. DE&I is only part of the solution.  Focus also more deeply on workplace bias—implicty and explicit.
  • Ensure your efforts are inspired from the very top while also being inclusive of the full fabric of the organization, including those who question your efforts.
  • Be specific and actionable with metrics, tracking organizational evolution and individual accountability.
  • Commit meaningful and definitive resources over the long-term.
  • Treat this as a living effort that is calibrated regularly and fed so it can grow.
  • Establish accountability at the board of directors level.

To their credit, many organizations across America made significant and meaningful changes in the last year. But time can be an incredible impediment to progress as memories fade, distractions mount and conviction is diluted.

So as we sit here a year later, on the heels of a Derek Chauvin murder conviction and the repeated, fatal incidents involving people of color, now is the time to take stock of where you’re at in key areas such as:

  • Point of view: Keep deliberating on what you stand for. Be careful not to get caught in the trap of misplaced labels. (This is about people, not politics.) Lean into empathy, authenticity and action.
  • Commitments: Audit where you’re at and what you’re prepared to do—and when. This includes equity in hiring, pay, retention, career advancement and leadership positions. This includes supplier and vendor diversity. Share those commitments externally to go on record for what you’ve committed to and contribute to a greater body of reference and inspiration for others.
  • Internal engagement: (Continue to) seek input from a cross-section of employees and members. Get a true versus anecdotal sense of where people stand on your efforts (not enough, too much or just right) and be prepared to meet people where they are. Equip them to have constructive conversations and bridge differences.
  • Training and education: Implict/explicit bias training training every two years is not enough. Ensure you have pulse training and checkpoints regularly to keep exercising that behavior-change muscle.
  • Policies, governance and codes of ethics: It makes good organizational sense to review your guidelines annually through lenses of BIPOC, LGBTQ+, women and working parents, among other things. Have someone new to the organization or a third-party lend a fresh, objective view to identify problems and areas for enhancement.
  • Philanthropy and social impact: You might focus on national, well-known organizations or a series of hyper-local donations. Consider what more you can contribute to anti-racism organizations, BIPOC-owned businesses, education advancement, economic development and/or civic engagement (including the ability to vote).
  • Civic action: Make it clear you consider it a priority for everyone in your organization to vote and that you will do everything you can to enable that. Best practices include providing time off for people to register and vote, and leading by example.
  • Government relations: Establish or revisit your criteria for what PACs and candidates you’ll support. Tie this back to what stand you stand for and what lines are not acceptable to cross. Be transparent with employees about how you’re deciding where the money goes and why.
  • Advertising: Revisit and refresh guidelines for what you say, where you say it and how you track changes or problems in the channels where your content appears.

Yes, this is a substantial to-do list. But enduring aspiration, acceleration and accountability is crucial—aspiration for what you can do to continue to meet this moment in history, acceleration of efforts at a time when inertia could pull you back into complacency, and continued self-accountability for what you’ve committed to doing. The time is now.

Learn how DE&I empowers employees to feel more supported and connected from organizations like Twitter and the American Heart Association at Ragan’s Employee Communications & Culture conference July 29

Tina-Marie Adams is senior director at APCO Worldwide, the largest female-owned global communications consultancy. She has advised dozens of companies and organizations on their equity, justice, diversity and inclusion efforts.

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