Over the last year, companies have made a lot of statements about diversity and inclusivity. Some have started to take action to level the playing field and ensure that more diverse faces are represented in the boardroom and the conference room. But are they doing these things because they’re the right things to do for their business? Or are they just doing what’s convenient? Are they ready to take the steps necessary to create an inclusive organization for the long-term?
In the last of our sessions in our Radically Human Transformation Discovery Series, Nina Boone, Terri Moore, Tej S. Hazra and Margot Zielinska, members of our global diversity, equity and inclusion team explored the ways that organizations tend to support inclusivity when it’s convenient. They also addressed how organizations can create sustainable change, embracing inclusion for the long-term to ensure they unleash their talent’s potential.
What does it mean to be “radically human” and inclusive?
The panel started by deconstructing what we mean by “radically human transformation” through a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Being “radical” is, according to Hazra, having a sense of accountability. But, instead of placing blame for their lack of a diverse pipeline of talent, organizations have to start building that pipeline. They can’t pass the burden of fixing DE&I issues to employer resource groups or minority leaders.
For Hazra, “radical” also means making yourself vulnerable and admitting that you don’t have all of the answers. It’s also acknowledging that silence can equate to complicity. Leaders must actively advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion and link them to their organization’s goals and values. He explained, “What’s radical is taking a long, hard look in the mirror and looking at that default starting place and ensuring that we’re covering all of these bases.” He continued, “Organizations must go from bystander to upstander. Or, in the words of the late Rep. John Lewis, organizations should ‘never be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble.’”
Zielinska discussed what it means to be “human” in the workplace. We must stop leaving our humanity behind when we go to work, she encouraged. Instead, to be most effective, we must show kindness, empathy and respect in the workplace. We must be open to new experiences with curiosity and no judgment. And we must strive to notice what we typically do not notice, acknowledging others and their value. She added, “Everyone has a diversity and inclusion story.” So, we must use our story to connect emotionally to the experience of inequality, recognizing that all of us have different experiences and that we often aren’t aware of what others are going through. And we must act consciously and intentionally to be more inclusive.
The panel then turned to what it means to be radically human in the workplace. First, Moore said, we need to be able to audit ourselves, so we can be more self-aware and admit our own privilege. We also need to be able to understand who isn’t represented in the spaces where we are. Moore mentioned that we must “disrupt the default,” which means pausing and taking the opportunity to understand how different people are seeing things from different perspectives. By doing so, “You are valuing, respecting and supporting others in that process.” Finally, she noted the importance of doing something intentional and calling it out. She distinguished intentional acts from performative acts, commenting that your acts must be authentic and sustainable and not done just for the moment.
Moore observed that this work is not easy; if it were, we would have done it before. “The challenge,” she said, “is taking it from a personal place. You have to deal with yourself first and be open and focus on the fact that it’s important to you, your family, your organizations, your community and the places where you work. Have a commitment for yourself. Even if you’re just doing one thing differently, start there. And then we start to see how the individual contributions in this space start to grow and how we expect others to show up in these spaces.”
We’ve been here before: Examples of convenient inclusion
In the past, the majority has embraced women, people of color, immigrants and other underrepresented individuals when they’re needed to serve the majority’s needs — and even when there’s very little chance of success. And, over and over again, despite trying circumstances, these underrepresented groups have shown they get the job done.
The first example the panel discussed was the Tuskegee Airmen. Moore remarked that these Black men learned how to be pilots and service planes and persevered, even though other soldiers didn’t want to fight next to them.
Hazra next observed that over 2 million Indian soldiers served England during World War II. Yet, despite their sacrifices, they were given a hostile reception after being invited to settle in other parts of the British Commonwealth. And today, Hazra added, these problems continue. Legal immigrants aren’t having a positive experience. “That’s not just in the last year or the last 18 months but the last 400 years. We keep going from being a convenience to inconvenient.”
Boone recounted how a full battalion of Black women, led by Major Charity Adams, stepped up to serve their country in World War II. These ladies were asked to figure out how to deliver 75,000 pieces of mail to U.S. soldiers stationed abroad. The army gave this battalion six months to deliver the mail, even though they couldn’t tell the battalion where the soldiers were located. The battalion finished their mission in half the allotted time.
Over and over, Boone noted, we see the glass cliff phenomenon. She explained, “Women and minorities are promoted or asked to take on roles when organizations are in crisis. And, more often than not, they overachieve but then are asked to step down or move out of the way and turn the reins over.” But, she asserted, to make diversity more sustainable, we can’t just bring in women and other underrepresented groups when it’s just convenient. “We've got to find ways to encourage them and be thankful and to utilize them in more ways,” she said.
Inclusion is not just convenient — it’s smart business
Inclusion isn’t just a convenient thing to do for right now in the wake of social justice movements. It’s a business imperative. Organizations that are inclusive find themselves enriched by new ideas, perspectives and experiences that lead to innovation and growth.
To transform in a radically human way and embed inclusion into their work, organizations need to take a close look at both their structures and behaviors. At the behavioral level, the levers include agile change management, mindset and skillset change, communications and leadership role modeling. On the structural side, the levers are organizational design, talent strategy, talent acquisition and performance management and rewards. Changing one side without addressing the other won’t yield sustainable transformation.
To learn more about these levers and about how a more diverse and inclusive workforce delivers results, watch the replay of the session. And get in touch to discuss how we can work together to move the behavioral and structural levers to unlock opportunities for all of your talent.