Workplaces have been under a lot of strain in recent years, a condition exacerbated by the pandemic and systemic inequity issues of last year. Sadly, lack of worker engagement and marginalization of certain groups is not a new issue. Underrepresented groups have long pushed for equal pay, recognition in the workplace and fair treatment. But despite years of advocacy, these issues have failed to gain momentum as workplace initiatives. In fact, only 39% of workers are fully engaged, according to Gallup.
Fortunately, recent events have prompted many companies to scrutinize their workplace environments and evaluate the treatment of their workers based on gender, cultural background, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual identity or other identifying characteristic. More companies are making diversity, equity and inclusion an active priority, but prioritizing DEI does not always come easily and many organizations are feeling their way tentatively down an undefined path. How can you help to engage 100% of your workforce? Sage Franch, founder and CEO of Crescendo DEI, and Susanne Tedrick, Azure infrastructure specialist at Microsoft, recently discussed some ideas during a session at ChannelCon Online, including how to break out of the habit of “covering” your true self.
What Is ‘Covering,’ Exactly?
Conversations about DEI in the workplace often begin with understanding “covering” and how it impacts workers. Franch and Tedrick identified covering as a way to compensate for certain workplace expectations. It’s what happens “when people hide parts of themselves to either fit in better in the workplace or to assimilate to some kind of established norms in a company culture,” said Franch. “It’s usually minoritized groups who are covering in situations where leadership has established, either explicitly or implicitly, that a certain element of their identity is not welcome in the workplace.”
Unfortunately, these practices are commonplace. One study revealed $16 billion loss in employee replacement costs per year in the tech sector due to unfair treatment and turnover costs. But moreover, covering in the workplace leads to unfair practices and a lack of equity among workers who continue to regularly disengage from the work environment. First, workers begin to cover to fit workplace norms, which in turn gets further affirmed by peers and leadership, causing the employee to cover more to continue adhering to the culture—finally, a cycle sets in.
Breaking The Cycle of Covering
The cycle of covering can be difficult to break. As a systemic issue, covering and inequity has to be broken down and tactics need to be implemented to discourage those practices if it is to be successful, according to Franch and Tedrick.
There are also other concerns surrounding DEI education initiatives that can be difficult to overcome. Often underrepresented groups seeking greater inclusion and equity are the same people who are undertaking the education initiatives. Because this is a newer area of education, it can be difficult to know exactly what needs to be taught and how it can help others understand the recurring issues. This is known to create setbacks and frustration, according to Franch.
Alongside this struggle is the lack of awareness in many majority groups. “The dominant group likely isn’t thinking about this at all. There furthers the divide and furthers the need to cover and furthers the discomfort and lack of ability to make a change,” said Franch.
This cycle makes it even more difficult to make the necessary pivots and implement needed changes.
Developing Strategies for Enhanced Engagement With DEI
While the path to DEI may not be clearly defined, it doesn’t mean your organization can’t imbue the right culture changes that lead to more equity and inclusion. Remember, true DEI goes far beyond simply adding employees from different cultures and groups. “Hiring for diversity is one thing, but in order for people of diverse backgrounds to feel successful, there’s got to be continuous support and continuous learning and education,” Tedrick said.
The following strategies can help you be successful with your DEI initiatives.
Get buy-in from senior management.
It’s very difficult to affect real change without management on board. This involves setting global DEI initiatives that work to instill inclusion and are supported by top management.
Implement ERGs in the workplace.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are voluntary gatherings of people in the workplace to allow a place for individuals to come together based on demographic factors, such as gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or common interests and goals. ERGs generally have the goal of strengthening community and providing personal and professional support to different groups in the workplace. In fact, 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs in place.
Develop a plan of action.
In order to be successful, DEI efforts need to be thoughtful and actionable. Here are four steps that Franch recommends:
- Listen to what your employees are saying about their workplace environment to truly understand their struggles and challenges.
- Absorb what employees are saying and recognize there might be problems even if it makes you uncomfortable.
- Develop a plan that is actionable and measurable to help define successes and plans for modification.
- Hold people accountable for the plan rather than assuming policies are being upheld.
Performance KPIs are frequently used to provide bonuses or other incentives to promote successful outcomes. Tying your DEI efforts to those incentive efforts could help prioritize equity and inclusion.
Be dynamic with your plan and shift when needed.
DEI isn’t a one-time effort. It’s an ongoing journey to ensure that underrepresented groups have the current resources they need and educational initiatives that teach to the challenges of the modern workplace.
Experts urge that DEI is a journey that will have obstacles and setbacks and they encourage organizations to continue down the path and keep having difficult conversations to help push for better diversity, equity and inclusion.
“This is the hard work. You have to figure out what success looks like and really be intentional about how you’re going to build towards that,” said Tedrick. “Genuinely this is a long process with no end. You have to be in it for the long haul.”
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