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Diversity: Where Do We Start?

Diversity: Where Do We Start?

Congratulations! Your employer has confirmed a commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives and has named the individual within the organization who will manage those efforts . . . YOU!  So where do we start?
We must understand that the first hurdle — the acknowledgment that a commitment is necessary — has been jumped. Many, however, need to stay there for a bit to unpack what that commitment truly means. There has to be an understanding that the commitment is more than a statement, more than words on paper. There has to be action and intention backing it up.  
Therefore, your first directive should be a conversation with leadership to make sure there’s a clear understanding of what this process will require of your organization. More often than not, companies have been conditioned to avoid conversations about diversity, including discussions about race, sex, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, abilities, etc. Over time, however, that’s changing.  Demographics are shifting, and these are areas of diversity that can no longer be avoided.  
A vital point to address when you work toward inclusion is that diversity exists and is continuing to grow. For that reason, opportunities to have dialogue around areas we have not addressed in the past will continue to grow. The best way to handle this, you ask? Head on, without dancing around key and important issues. Remember that our commitment has intentional action behind it.  
There are several ways to begin creating the inclusive environment you want in your workplace. Employees will engage with different opportunities across a variety of mediums and comfort levels. Each opportunity, however, should communicate the same themes and values, and you should let people know the importance of being OK with discomfort as you move forward. That’s part of the process it takes to get to important change.  
Here are a few suggestions to get started:

Create a committee.

The first step in creating a diverse and inclusive work environment is to create a diverse and inclusive group of individuals dedicated to the goal. This isn’t something you should tackle alone. Having a diverse team working from different perspectives will be critical in ensuring you put the right activities and opportunities in place.

Convene book clubs.

Start a book club to create room for respectful dialogue. Employees may choose to participate or they may not, but they’ll at least be aware that your organization is open to and supportive of these conversations in the workplace. Here are some great titles to start you off.

  • Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will To Change by Jennifer Brown
  • What if? Short Stories to Spark Diversity Dialogue by Steve Robbins
  • Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald
  • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg


Ask for feedback.

Veterans United Home Loans, a champion of diversity and inclusion in Columbia business, uses a tool called “stay interviews” that they find helpful in assessing what their employees need and what areas they need to address. We’ve all heard of or completed exit interviews when leaving an organization, which are typically administered either in person with the HR department or via survey. In those interviews, a departing employee is asked specific questions about why they’re choosing to leave the organization. If you’ve ever been in one, you know they’re not fun.
Stay interviews can be considered the preventive measure for the dreaded exit interview. Exit interviews absolve the company of a responsibility to talk about how they can improve; stay interviews make sure those conversations happen. Think about enacting a similar policy in your company, and adjust for what fits with your employees.
It’s time to get started! How will you assemble your diversity and inclusion committee? What questions will you ask to ensure you have the right people around the table to take on this important initiative?  DAP – Columbia can always offer help if you need it.
Nikki McGruder is the regional director of Diversity Awareness Partnership – Columbia.

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