10 Ways to Move Beyond D&I Training

Published: Dec 11, 2020



But few have achieved it. And even fewer have gone beyond inclusion and addressed inequity—a problem that’s been a part of our culture for as long as our culture has existed.

Some companies have started to truly address inequity. Many have initiated training programs. And yes, training is a critical activity. But there’s so much more that needs to be done to drive real, lasting change. Here are 10 actions that take diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts beyond training to help build a truly equitable workplace.

Admit you have a problem or opportunity to improve. If you or someone you know has ever taken part in an addiction recovery program, you know that the first step is to admit you have a problem. Essentially, you must acknowledge that the status quo is not working and that you need help. This step is about making an honest realization that change is needed and that there must be a better way forward.

This goes for DE&I as well. If your organization is going to make real moves toward a truly diverse, inclusive, and equitable culture, you must be ready to admit that the current “way” isn’t working and acknowledge that it’s time to let go of the past and try something new and different.

Listen to learn. According to social psychologist Irving L. Janis, groupthink is a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group and will even set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group. It is a phenomenon that is most likely to occur when group members are very similar to one another, and when a powerful and charismatic leader is in charge or a group is placed under extreme stress or a moral dilemma.

Although some praise groupthink because it can result in faster decision making or task completion, many find it dangerous because it can lead to suppression of individual and creative thought, poor decision making, and inefficient problem solving. To combat groupthink, people need to invite the opinions of others, especially others who are different from themselves. And once other voices are heard, the group must encourage debate and discourse about next steps forward. This will maximize learning and ensure optimal decision making and problem solving.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. In the words of well-known abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.” want

The same goes for those of us who want truly diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environments without ever hearing about others’ racist experiences, without taking accountability for the ills of our society and for our personal biases and contributions to these ills. We must lean into the ugliness of inequity and exclusion and come to terms with the role we’ve played in creating the current environment. We must be prepared to take risks, say the wrong thing, and make mistakes sometimes if we are going to change the tone and the narrative in the world around us.

Think bigger. Teaching employees about diversity concepts, like institutional racism, personal bias, and microaggressions, is the type of (often well-intended) tick-the-box approach that ultimately is just not enough to sustain a culture that truly supports and values diversity, equity, and inclusion.

A more holistic approach—one rooted in a shared vision and based on the individual experiences of those within the organization—drives the mindset shift and behavior change required to create this environment. It infuses DE&I into the values, governance, talent, compensation, and other practices of an organization. It holds every member of the organization accountable to understand their role and build new habits.

Visualize what good looks like and measure it. Articulating what success looks like can help create a picture of what you’re looking to achieve, and a vision that feels both real and possible. It’s certainly not magic or a replacement for the planning and hard work that go into realizing the vision, but it can put you in the right mindset to set the vision in motion.

Then, based on what success looks like day-to-day, create a transparent scorecard to measure progress and success against your DE&I initiatives and goals. When determining your metrics, be sure to measure not just the presence of a more diverse workforce vis-à-vis hiring, retention, and other metrics, but also whether each member of your organization feels included and valued and has access to the same opportunities and resources as those around them.

Convert doubters to doers. People who have doubts about the ability to change can actually be your biggest allies in the journey toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work culture. But you have to meet them where they are, address their concerns (which are often quite valid), and earn their trust and support for the future.

Working with doubters can be exhausting, especially when you’re facing a difficult challenge. The last thing you want to see or hear are doubts, and doubts can be particularly emotional when it comes to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion—especially for the believers among us. But in the spirit of honoring others’ reality, ask questions of the doubters and listen to their answers. Work with them to co-create a path forward and inspire them to take action—and you’ll move them along the change continuum to shift from awareness, through commitment, to action and advocacy.

Change HR practices. You can communicate with, train, and convert those around you to create momentum for change, and you’ll make great progress. But if you want to maintain progress well into the future, nearly every HR policy and practice must be reevaluated from the lens of DE&I, across the entire employee lifecycle. From recruiting and onboarding through learning and development, performance management, talent planning, compensation and recognition programs, every HR practice must encourage and reinforce a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Activate sponsors. Build inclusive and equitable mentorship programs that increase visibility and accelerate growth for traditionally underrepresented groups. More important, activate career sponsors across your organization. These are people who will be more proactive in helping others advance their careers. They are influential leaders who openly and privately advocate for others’ success, often recommending them for highly visible or stretch assignments, supporting them in risk taking, and helping them build relationships with key influencers. Sponsors take a vested interest in others’ careers and help confront and interrupt bias along the way. Sponsorship is earned through trust and credibility but must be encouraged, expected, and rewarded across the organization.

Harness the power of the collective. Helen Keller, American author, political activist, and lecturer, and the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree, once said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much,” imploring people to lean on each other for help, especially in the context of a social movement. Helen Keller was, among many wonderful things, an advocate for the disabled. She dedicated her life to the rights of the disabled and spent countless hours supporting social justice among other groups as well. In all her efforts, she emphasized the power of the collective.

Similarly, in organizations, it is important to create and nourish active, well-resourced employee networks, resource groups, and councils. By bringing employees together to share, listen, and strategize about how to address issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity, you will harness the power of the collective to strengthen culture and get better results.

Build and sustain energy at every level. To ensure comprehensive adoption and lasting culture change, initiatives must be aimed at addressing the short- and long- term needs of every level in the organization, which can be viewed as four separate energy centers:

  • The C-suite
  • The magic middle (those middle layers of leaders that sit in the pivotal role between employees and executives)
  • The manager-coaches (who have employees reporting directly to them)
  • The frontline employees, serving customers and clients every day

There is no magic bullet to building a strategic approach to creating a more equitable and diverse culture. Some of the actions above are simpler to implement than others and these can be tackled immediately. Others are longer-term efforts that will take energy to implement and sustain. Still, all of these tactics are necessary to help you transcend the rhetoric of DE&I training and move into tangible action and lasting change within the organization.

Be bold. Be honest. Be humble. And most of all, be patient. Remember, you are tackling issues that are hundreds of years old. But as we advise our clients every day, now is the time to lift up and inspire others with a clear vision for the future, dig in to the hard work of change with confidence and calm, and lead forward by mobilizing your teams to create a better tomorrow.

About the Author: Christine Andrukonis is the founder and senior partner at Notion Consulting, a global change-leadership consultancy.