9 Best Practices to Embed Diversity and Inclusion into Your Workplace Culture

/ Christine Andrukonis

The Black Lives Matter movement has brought a heightened awareness to systemic and institutional racism, and to the implicit personal biases that impact inclusion in the workplace. By now, it has become clear that active anti-racism measures are critical to bring about much-needed change in the corporate world. To embed JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion) into an organization’s culture, leaders must commit to a long-term plan of action and ongoing, frank dialogue with their people. According to Notion consultant and resident JEDI expert Jayson Council, here are some diversity and inclusion best practices:

1. Create a ‘see something, say something’ policy. 

If you have ever spent any time in New York City and commuted via the subway, you’ve heard about the infamous ‘See Something, Say Something’ campaign. This message was developed by the Department of Homeland Security in 2010 to help civilians come forward to law enforcement if they witnessed suspicious activity. Council encourages leaders to adopt a similar philosophy toward creating a JEDI culture. Talking about these issues may feel uncomfortable at first, but as he puts it, “leaders have to be courageous enough to foster an environment where people are encouraged to call out workplace microaggressions and counterproductive behaviors. If we don’t step up and express when a phrase or a decision was unfair or racist, then we can’t move forward and make better choices around inclusion in the workplace.”

2. Insist on a culture of transparent leadership. 

Consider conducting an internal survey of your employees to ask them how they would rate leadership’s authenticity and transparency regarding diversity issues. If the results are less than stellar, it’s time to make improvements. As Council puts it, “it’s important for companies to recognize the ongoing work that needs to be done in the area of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Acknowledging where you are on your journey, including progress you’ve made and where there’s still room to improve, builds trust, courage and buy-in.” “This must be a non-negotiable for all senior executives, because authenticity and transparency starts at the top,” he stresses.

3. Include voices from all levels of the organization, but make sure the C-Suite takes the lead.

In addition to courage and transparency, Council says leaders need to include all voices as part of the discussion and allow constructive criticism into the conversation about company culture. It also means asking your team members for their opinions about how to adopt diversity and inclusion best practices and how to communicate them effectively. While Council says the work of inclusion in the workplace can — and should! — be done at all levels, to make a real long-term impact, this work needs to be led from the C-suite.

4. Hold people accountable. Even the likeable ones.

One of the biggest mistakes many professionals make is trusting heart over mind, according to Council. Here’s a great example: you have a high-performing, senior level employee who has been with the company for a decade. Though your colleague is generally liked by others, they sometimes make comments that are racist or disrespectful in nature. Rather than addressing these microaggressions, you gloss over these incidents, giving your colleague the benefit of the doubt and assuming they have no malicious intentions. Council says that by not asking them to be more empathetic and self-aware, you are in fact reinforcing non-inclusive behavior patterns, which can have a damaging ripple effect throughout the organization.

5. Create a safe space for healthy dialogue. 

Schedule regular events that focus solely on discussions around justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace. Give employees the space to share their experiences and work together to create JEDI best practices that can benefit the entire company. Council suggests taking a welcoming approach, such as a ‘Dessert + Discourse’ session, to minimize the pressure on participants and encourage attendance.

6. Make reference materials available. 

In the heat of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, many organizations gave their employees pivotal, impactful books, like White Fragility, and provided a list of anti-racism resource materials for their people. Reference materials like these shouldn’t be a one-time show of solidarity with the movement. Rather, they should be part of a running, living list that employees can turn to when they want to continue learning. Council says it can be something simple (and inexpensive), curated by the staff, or it could be a budget expenditure where the company book club focuses on these matters for a few months. The list should be updated frequently, and include the latest thinking via a variety of media, including podcasts, articles, books, and more. Ideally, managers can host follow up discussion groups with their teams about the reading and research they are doing.

7. Move beyond data points.

On paper, many companies appear to be doing well in their diversity efforts, with increasing numbers of traditionally marginalized community members in leadership positions, and a broader range of representation throughout the organization. But the truth is, employee experience may not match up to corporate data points, and many minority employees are still lagging in pay equity, opportunity, and authority. In other words, the data can make a company appear to be much more accepting than it truly is. “I use the word ‘diversity’ on purpose because diversity is the easiest to manipulate,” says Council. “True equity and inclusion require more action and ideally more authenticity,” he explains. Do the hard work by assessing employee experience across the entire talent life cycle, from recruitment through retirement. Get honest feedback directly from your people so you can address the real experiences and opportunities available to employees from traditionally underrepresented groups.

8. Don’t forget your external stakeholders. 

Council recommends that even if you don’t have formal diversity partnering guidelines in place, at a minimum, you should conduct a quick cultural competency audit among your business partners before you contract with them, to ensure that their practices are aligned with your values. Remember that JEDI practices should address everyone your company is associated with — from employees, to clients and partners, to vendors and beyond. A cultural competency audit could include things like:

  • Evaluating the make-up of your board of directors and advisory groups.
  • Proactively seeking and selecting a diverse group of vendors to partner with, and ensuring they also value justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (take note if they are silent).
  • Understanding clients/customers’ history around inclusion/exclusion and influencing their commitment to justice, diversity, equity and inclusion.

9. Don’t become a performative ally. 

Stay vigilant and aware of your own behaviors. And be on the lookout for leaders who are portraying themselves as an ally to people of color but not actually doing the hard work to be supportive in a meaningful way. “You cannot reach your maximum leadership capabilities when it comes to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace with words alone,” Council says “Although your heart may be in the right place, trust your mind to make a rational and emotionally-intelligent course of action regarding how you show up, every day. The times we are living in are too volatile to create surface, non-sustainable relationships in both our professional and personal lives.”

Categories: Change, Culture, Culture Change