What started as a movement in the 1960s to cultivate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace has evolved to connect a company’s vision, purpose, and values with a long view toward justice. What we call DEI+J (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion + Justice) can fall under a host of names, functions, and titles, but the uniting thread remains the same: bettering the human experience through all the levers a company can impact, both inside and outside your walls.
Unlock new momentum by broadening traditional views of DEI and embracing DEI+J as a way to transform culture and enhance the connection to your collective company identity.
Today, your employees, customers, advocates and influencers, want to know that your organization is equating values and profit. But even with a half-century of efforts under our collective belts, the truth is that many organizations have only scratched the surface when it comes to DEI and DEI+J. While leaders have made strides in setting and measuring workforce goals, they often fall short in truly cultivating a culture of belonging and purpose—one that leads to better engagement and satisfaction from employees, and, in turn, more value for organizations.
Culture transformation succeeds or fails at the top
Company-wide culture change requires widespread effort, beyond your DEI officer. You need shared ownership of your DEI+J culture to make true progress, from the board to employee resource groups (ERGs) to your newest hire.
Employees notice how your organization’s CEO elevates (or ignores) DEI+J values. Values-first language that shows up in your company’s growth, workforce, and marketing strategies signals that DEI+J is embedded across functions and owned by all leaders. It ensures that leaders and employees are making both day-to-day and big-picture decisions that anchor back to DEI+J goals. It also provides regular opportunities to ensure accountability, check in on progress, and normalize conversations where values and profitability hold the same space.
As ownership gets embedded across your organization, be sure to intentionally, and without judgment, assess how your operating model will enable or challenge stakeholders to work together. If the only collaboration point across legal, HR, marketing, sales and delivery is your DEI officer, consider the benefits if all were equally incentivized to engage around DEI. Could ERGs be better leveraged to serve as advisors or ambassadors? Could leaders be rewarded to serve as executive sponsors for ERGs? The more connection points created, the more employees will see DEI+J as a driver of company identity, access to opportunity, and purpose in their lives (not just their work).
Showing courage and authenticity
Your company’s unique values can rally your employees behind a strong sense of purpose, identity and engagement. They also let the world know you are making the human experience better through your products or services and how you deliver them. This is why it’s so critical to be clear and consistent about your company values—especially during a crisis. Businesses are often judged by consumers and employees based on their response to crises and values-driven emergencies. By their nature, most crises (and their timing) are impossible to anticipate. Organizations have short windows to take action without being seen as laggards or considered uncaring for responding “too late.”
Being proactive is now non-negotiable. You can alleviate some pressure by creating a rapid response team that’s empowered to act in response to a values-driven crisis. Arm them with a defined perspective around public issues that are rooted in your company values. Be prepared to organize public statements, lobbying efforts or investments in causes as part of your response. Build criteria, including which communities are affected, the nature of the crises and key internal/external audiences to help your rapid response team build the best path forward. Document learnings and revisit your criteria periodically.
To successfully embed DEI+J into your workplace, you’ll need advocates, people who have a pulse on the conscience of your company and are empowered to surface the voices of your employees and broader communities. This is where ERGs can bring the most value to your DEI+J portfolio.
Research shows that work is a significant source of employees’ sense of purpose. And since ERG members demonstrate high levels of engagement, these groups should be considered magnets for employees looking to find purpose and leadership opportunities. Establish structured and unstructured communication pathways between ERGs and executives, encouraging relationship building. Foster the intrinsic motivation of your ERG members by elevating their status within the organization, increasing their ability to affect change, and rewarding their efforts as true investments in the company.
Empower ERGs, as employees with skills and legitimacy to represent their communities, to share perspectives on firmwide decisions, advocate for important issues, and leverage their voices to activate your strategy.
Take the long view
The path toward a transformed, DEI+J positive culture is long. Seeing tangible impacts within 5 years requires patience, vision, and a commitment to values. Progress can be hard to see, but will show up in how people make decisions, understand their own influence, and measure their impact.
Our advice to those leading this type of culture change is to define where you want to be five years from now. How do you want to expand sponsorship for DEI+J across every aspect of your business? How will your employees and customers be better off? What KPIs will demonstrate this change? Setting long-term aspirational goals as well as short-term values-first goals tied to your company’s growth strategies will set you up to reference your vision as a guide and avoid getting distracted by short-term considerations.