EVERYONE HAS A ROLE to play in achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Getting employees to recognize how important DEI is to a business’s success is particularly important, however, because without buy-in, that effort will fail.
“If you don’t have people genuinely embarking on this work for their own reasons, you’re not going to see real change,” says Sage Franch, CEO at Crescendo, an inclusion platform developer headquartered in Toronto. Those reasons will vary, since people have different lived experiences and the motivation behind supporting DEI is personal, she notes. “You can’t do a one-size-fits-all approach here and say, ‘Everybody in the company has to care about our DEI initiatives for this reason.’”
As such, Crescendo’s platform curates DEI content that is customized to each employee based on their learning style and the DEI-related topics they’re most interested in, as well as subjects that are just a little outside of their comfort zone. One of the goals behind this personalized approach is to help people better understand the importance of DEI. Employees who are not part of a minority group, Franch notes, may not perceive a DEI initiative as relevant to them, which is one of the biggest challenges to buy-in.
“A big hurdle for a lot of people is having what we at Crescendo call ‘the a-ha moment’ and realizing, ‘OK, these people who are not like me, actually we share a lot in common. There are a lot of shared experiences, and if I was in this position, this is how I would feel.’” This may sound simplistic, Franch concedes, but for many people it’s the starting point.
A successful DEI initiative must start at the top, adds Shadeed Eleazer, who heads the technology and management consulting firm Shadeed Eleazer and Associates, and is chapter chair for the Greater Baltimore Area of SCORE Association, an organization that provides mentoring and education to SMBs. Leadership is especially important when employees recognize a scenario that is not fair or equitable and raise it to management, he says. “If it’s not corrected or there aren’t policies and procedures that are put into place, that’s when the culture becomes cancerous.”
Eleazer says leaders also need to be aware of how significant events in the country or community may affect some employees more than others, citing the death of George Floyd in 2020 and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police brutality as an example. He counsels business owners to be prepared for events like this and encourages them to have direct conversations with affected team members to determine how to respond. This could include publicly declaring the company’s stance on the issue, or even allowing affected employees to take the day off. All actions should be supported by an established policy.
“As a leader, I believe that you must turn up the dial on your humanity,” Eleazer says. “When something is happening that is such a divisive issue, and it seeps into the fabric and core of your company, the worst thing that you can do is say, ‘We’re all in this together’––meaning, trying to make it an issue that encompasses all versus addressing the party that may be hurt,” he says.
Finally, DEI needs to span beyond in-house cultural issues, because employees will only buy into it if it suffuses everything the business does, Franch points out. This means that business leaders, and those charged with building and packaging products, should be asking themselves: Who is using what we provide? Have we thought about people with these characteristics, or this lived experience? How will they use what we offer?
“That can open up so much,” Franch says, “and that’s inclusion for both the people you’re building for and the people you work with.”