Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
With voluntary employee turnover costing U.S. companies $1 trillion a year, diversity and inclusion is an area that businesses can’t afford to overlook. Furthermore, numerous studies have now shown how the lack of a diverse and inclusive culture has led to high turnover, less innovation and organizational performance problems.
Your DEI program may seem to have all the pieces — A solid, cross-functional council/committee, active ERGs, data on talent acquisition and employee engagement activities, workshops and eLearnings, newsletters, signage and communications supporting the company DEI strategy.
In spite of all this, it is possible that you’re still not truly building a culture of diversity and inclusion. To determine if you are indeed developing a diverse and inclusive culture, ask these questions:
Are leaders and managers receiving empathy, communication and emotional intelligence training?
Most workplace DEI programs overlook how connected skills like communication, emotional intelligence and conflict management are to building a diverse and inclusive culture. They often focus on simply “going through the motions,” without getting into the skills that can truly help embed an inclusive culture in the organization.
Central to DEI success in the workplace is building the capacity for empathy — the ability to understand someone’s point of view and actually try it on like a shirt, as if it was one’s own. People who have empathy are not just saying and doing the “right things.” They are forming a deep understanding of those who are different. Empathy is a skill that is becoming more and more essential for effectiveness in the workplace.
In many cases, DEI workshops and training include quite a bit of interaction, yet this interaction is often intellectual and abstract, discussing concepts and methods rather than inviting actual stories, feelings and experiences.
One of the best ways to train in empathy is through building a culture of storytelling. Create spaces for storytelling in the workplace. It can be live events, an open mic session on Zoom, a company vlog or podcast or a newsletter. Whatever it is, ensure that employees get a chance to regularly share and be seen for their unique identities. Allow differences to truly be celebrated.
Formal learning is traditionally a one-way process: Watch this eLearning video, listen to this instructor, do these exercises, answer this multiple-choice quiz, etc. However, it is through real-life experience and stories that people are truly activated to create change and act on what they learn.
Leadership and management play a huge part in inspiring this effort. Encourage leaders to undertake communication coaching and storytelling training as a means to inspire the workforce to share their own stories.
Are you applying DEI concepts to day-to-day operations?
Diversity and inclusion efforts will largely go to waste if other day-to-day workplace operations stay exactly the same. Thus, focus on how DEI concepts can be applied to actual workplace situations.
Here are some ideas (which can also be pulled off virtually):
Have more cross-functional meetings, allowing for cross-pollination of ideas and better transparency across the organization.
Change the way meetings are held to create space for less-heard voices.
Develop a company-sponsored lunch that matches up random employees every week to go on a subsidized lunch together.
Redesign teams to be more diverse if they aren’t already.
Whatever your personal comfort level with change is, there are tons of ways you can ensure you’re creating opportunities and spaces for different types of employees to interact and learn from one another.
Are your DEI policies and processes fair?
Too often, DEI is treated as a black-and-white issue within companies (no pun intended): There is the “right” way and the “wrong” way. Policies and processes can be punitive and fear-inducing, rather than tolerant and empathetic — inhibiting, rather than fostering, communication.
Remember that DEI involves a mindset change for each individual and for the workplace, and no one will get it 100% right all of the time. Bias is an ingrained aspect of the human mind and existence, and overcoming bias is a process that takes time and active practice. Thus, ensure your policies create enough space to be able to discern well-intentioned mistakes from ill-intentioned ones.
True harassment, discrimination and hateful speech and action certainly need to be punished and uprooted from the organization. However, people can also make unintentional mistakes and learn from them. Create policies and processes that allow for discernment, empathy and constructive feedback.
Are you measuring the right things, in the right ways?
What metrics are you using to measure the success of DEI efforts? Are you sure they are the best metrics for determining business impact?
For example, if the business goal is to increase engagement in training workshops, simply measuring an increase in attendance is not necessarily the best metric. What if there are more attendees, but they’re all tuned out?
Steer away from surveys when you can, as survey fatigue can become a real phenomenon for many employees. Explore other forms of people analytics, like observation or even conducting an organizational network analysis to look at how your organization communicates and interacts. Information like this can help design strategies to enable more inclusion and collaboration.
There is no magic formula for DEI success. Thus, DEI seems to be less of a goal and more of a collective process — a journey for the organization and for each individual. It’s a collaborative exploration, a challenging of our own assumptions and biases at each moment and an active willingness to learn continuously. It’s not just a workshop or a program, but a challenging of the prevailing culture and the embedding of a “new way of doing things.”