For many organizations, this year has been a journey of enablement – both strategic and cultural. Amid a global pandemic, social, economic unrest, and racial violence, employers have increased their focus on furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in meaningful ways. This focus has translated to a renewed sense of purpose and perspective – where eliminating systemic bias and learning and development interventions require equal investment.
For years, organizations have assessed their DEI efforts across a maturity model with varying degrees of investments in training, hiring diverse talent, councils and advisory groups, and other initiatives focused on individual and leadership development. In 2021, we will see a shift with the most cutting-edge organizations using the language of a journey – an agile and iterative journey of assessment, awareness, and action.
As companies around the world are re-examining their values and recommitting their systems, processes, programs, and products to be more diverse and inclusive, they are also assessing and acknowledging the cultural norms and protocols in place that may be working against advancing DEI in the workplace.
How can organizational leaders do this effectively? To start the journey, they must establish a learner’s mindset across the organization, build leadership muscles and competencies that inspire both the head and the heart of employees, and establish a network of accountability partners to keep the momentum going.
Start with a Learner’s Mindset
DEI is both an individual and an organizational journey that requires introspection and investment, and one of the greatest enablers – learning. Learning knows no boundaries. It is both a great equalizer and an enabler of progress. As a result of today’s ever-shifting, ever-evolving workplace, employees have access to learning resources anywhere and at any time, as well as an increased desire to build new knowledge bases and new skills. Employers need to be continuously creative with how they ignite and inspire a learner’s mindset for all employees regardless of level or role.
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Engaging with a meaningful and transformative dialogue can inspire a renewed commitment and unlock awareness in powerful ways. Tailored learning events can provide intensive, interactive, and inclusive experiences that bring formal learning to life. An example of this type of learning is the Leadercamp led by Su Joun, principal at Diversity@Workplace Consulting Group, and hosted in a virtual live environment with Skillsoft. The Leadercamp provided participants with a global space for discussion and collaboration on advancing diversity in the workplace. Over 1000 participants engaged in an active and engaging discussion, chatting, and sharing stories. These types of just-in-time, easily accessible to all learning experiences allow employers to harness a global network, raise personal awareness, foster collaboration and conversation, and enable learning in an agile and effective way.
Build Leadership Muscle
Leadership is equal parts head (intuition, agility, acumen, strategy) and equal parts heart (empathy, compassion, resilience, and inclusivity). It is equal parts people and systems. Tech leaders will need to speak both languages in order to enable growth and success for employees and drive efforts to purify human-built technology that, unchecked, can enable bias to grow undetected.
For many tech organizations, the balance of leadership and technical skills development has been at the forefront of their transformational goals. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are practices that require both technical expertise and leadership competency to uproot deeply engrained cultural and behavioral inequities. Many organizations are going back to an older (and still effective) model such as a Johari window to coach and mentor leaders – helping them uncover their implicit bias and blind spots. Other organizations are investing in neuroscience leadership exercises and collaborations with organizations that champion DEI and raise awareness of diverse groups.
More and more, leaders need access and exposure to experiences other than those they are used to every day – access to individuals who think and work differently than them. To build endurance and create lasting change, organizations will need to invest in their leaders and in diversifying not only what they learn and experience but how they do both.
Develop Accountability Partners
A single person or department cannot advance DEI on its own. For long-term change, leadership cannot simply rely on Human Resources or DEI leaders to champion this work. Tech organizations of all sizes are starting to democratize the learning journey, creating systems of accountability partners throughout their ecosystems so that the focus and energy behind this transformation do not rest with a few. Inclusion councils, extreme listening meetings and surveys, and business advisory groups are all examples of accountability partnerships – where one group in an organization empowers another and creates channels for co-counsel and collaboration. These types of practices also create accountability levers and measures for leaders across the organization.
Learning programs and experiences that educate and provide access to diverse perspectives and experiences continue to be powerful enablement tools even in virtual settings. In our hyper-connected, digital world, some of the most transformative conversations are still happening in well-facilitated, safe virtual team meetings, where leaders empower others to share their stories.
Engrained in the fabric of most tech companies is agility: the practice of iterating, brainstorming, designing, and testing. The DEI journey for every individual and every organization must follow the same spirit. Not one of perfection or finite, measurable goals, but one of continuous improvement and learning, of business strategy and empathy, of intellect and feeling.
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