Between a global pandemic, economic instability, and ongoing action for justice for historically marginalized people, many are eager to close the door on 2020. Before we do, it’s critical we reflect, learn from our mistakes, and prepare an action plan for how we’re going to keep our commitments in 2021.
The protests sparked by the viral video of George Floyd’s murder (and associated movements for racial justice) have driven diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) back onto the agendas of executives and boards globally. Beyond the public outpouring of support for Black Lives Matter, CEOs and businesses also pledged to invest in DEI, and specifically in anti-racism programs. Culture Amp’s own data shows that our customers asked more than 30% more survey questions about inclusion in the employee experience in 2020 than the previous year. And to what effect? In 2020, companies made pledges, wrote a few checks to earn some tax breaks, and said they would “do better.” But a promise is not enough.
Systemic change ultimately comes from taking action, but we have seen very few companies publicly publish their plans for how their commitments will become a reality. The good news is it’s not all doom and gloom: there is still time to act. Companies that want to make their DEI statements a reality can lay the foundations right now with three critical steps.
1. Plan a measurement strategy, seek feedback, and commit to reporting
To be a truly equitable leader, you must first acknowledge that you are both a part of the problem and a part of the solution. It’s about recognizing that your previous behaviors, decisions, and actions (or inaction) are what led us to this position, but equally, that we can still choose to act differently, starting today.
As the adage goes, what gets measured gets managed, so you should begin with being explicit and intentional about your diversity (representation) and inclusion (experience) metrics. For example, if you’re setting targets to improve intersectionality marginalized employees’ experiences, your targets might reflect closing the experience gap for key groups who are currently most marginalized in your workplace. Now is the time to decide how you will measure engagement for women of color compared to their white male counterparts, or how disabled caregivers experience the workplace differently than abled ones.
Once you have your measures, you must collect feedback to move your DEI intention to reality. DEI’s best practice is to collect information confidentially while signaling to survey respondents how many people you’re asking. Feedback can be collected through formal surveys and feedback platforms like Culture Amp, or informally through tools like google docs or online surveys. The important action here is to create a regular, consistent way for employees to provide feedback on their experiences. Surveying also establishes a baseline for your equity program that you can use to measure progress.
Be specific about when and with whom you’re going to share the data from your surveys too. Companies can be afraid to report on their numbers, but here’s the secret: Mediocrity in achievement is a systemic problem. Covering up your “bad” scores isn’t fooling anyone, and it’s certainly not helping you make progress. Sharing your results keeps your DEI efforts on the agenda and builds trust with your employees when you couple sharing data with concrete plans of action to improve. As a rule, senior leaders should see this data at least quarterly, whereas you can share the results (and updates) with employees bi-annually or in line with your existing engagement survey practices. A professional tip is to pick one good and one inequitable area at a time to focus on, and work your way up to systematic, all-encompassing change.
2. Build funding and resourcing into your annual plan
Actions and outcomes require adequate resourcing. Make sure that you can commit the correct resourcing in terms of dollars and headcount to achieve your stated commitments. If you want to be successful long term, an impactful DEI plan will focus primarily on evolving your organizational culture and business operations, not on the marketing or recruiting events that perform inclusion rather than create change.
Once again, consider the funding, headcount, and personnel ratios required for this work, and pressure test it against other business lines. If you’re looking for an acid test, examine whether your organization readily spends money on beer for the fridge or brand marketing but requires higher “proof of impact” for proposed DEI initiatives. If this is the case it’s equivalent to saying you value “Budweiser over Black people.” Don’t accept excuses. If something is a priority it gets funded.
3. Invest in mental health, especially in the service of underrepresented communities
It may be tempting to view 2021 as a clean slate and an opportunity to move on from issues like racial injustice and social inequality, but just because the media are no longer focused on these issues does not mean things have changed for many. The world is still meaningfully hostile to underrepresented people and the continual and ongoing impact on marginalized people’s mental health will remain.
Organizations must play a central role in surfacing these issues and supporting their team members—all team members. At a minimum, organizations should offer some form of mental health support, whether by adjusting their health insurance offerings, curating lists of providers, or bringing in experts and facilitating culturally responsive in-house programs.
This has been a year full of the possibility of change. People have taken to the streets and to the polls in numbers greater than ever before to stimulate change. But how will our organizations respond? This is the moment in which leadership really counts. Not when it’s time to draft the press release, but when it’s time to focus on the deep, impactful work that will change the system that produces precisely the outcomes it was designed to.
If you’re a leader who still wants to make your actions count, organizational allyship is where you can put your focus. Remember, it’s not about how much you say you care, it’s about what you do with that care and who it ultimately benefits, that counts.
Aubrey Blanche is the director of Equitable Design & Impact at Culture Amp.