As national conversations about racism and equity continue, companies are looking inward and taking action. But are your diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts at risk of fizzling out? For them to be meaningful and sustainable, they need to be embedded into the core of your business, experts say.
Organizations should treat D&I as a business strategy that will "help your business grow, maybe be more attractive, more innovative and more productive," said consultant Jocelyn Giangrande. These efforts can help you connect with the community you serve, and they create "the right environment where all of your talent can thrive and contribute, and people feel respected and treated with dignity," she said.
Research repeatedly has shown that diverse and inclusive teams perform better, make better decisions, and foster innovation—which directly can affect your bottom line.
When Giangrande works with executives on D&I, she always asks them, "What's the first thing that you think of when you when you think of diversity?"
"Most of the time, they don't think of themselves as part of the umbrella of diversity," she said. "When you think diversity is about other groups or other people, then it's not integrated through your system."
Diversity goes beyond the number of people from underrepresented groups.
"Diversity truly is everything that encompasses us," said Graci Harkema of Graci L.L.C. "It's our diversity of thought, diversity of experience, and our diversity of backgrounds. It is everything that we bring to the table."
"If you have more than one person in the room, you have diversity," she said. "When you start to think of it that way, everything you do in your organization is under the umbrella of diversity, and the culture in which you do it is the inclusion. So it should be woven into everything that you do: all your marketing, all your communication, all of your human resources policies, all of your business decisions."
Also, everyone needs to be involved, not just senior leaders.
"Everyone needs to be part of that solution," Giangrande said.
As the Auto Club Group AAA in Dearborn, Mich., was planning its D&I strategy, the company asked employees what diversity means to them. They conducted focus groups, and the process took time, "but you want to make sure that you end up with a strategy that is uniquely tailored to fit your organization," said Kenneth Mathies, the Auto Club Group's assistant vice president and chief diversity officer.
The process can be uncomfortable. Your organization's introspection might include acknowledging the systemic racism that your employees face—at work and outside of work, Harkema said.
"They're coming to work, having to hang up parts of themselves, because they can't be their authentic selves," she said. "These are tough conversations. And there are times we're going to feel uncomfortable, because racism and discrimination is very uncomfortable."