DE&I – How Organizations Deal with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

DE&I – How Organizations Deal with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

We have heard a lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion.   What is it that we need to know today, learn from yesterday to help us to have success with DE&I initiatives in the future?

Labor predicts that the workforce of the 21st century may be characterized by increased numbers of women, minorities, and intergenerational workers.  With the recent challenges created by the COVID 19 pandemic where gender, racial and disability gaps were magnified, there was also a disproportionate impact on health and economic disparities relative to women and people of color (as well as the poor and disabled) which then put the spotlight on the existing social injustice and racial inequities in the US. (Sault, 2020) 

In May,2020, the killing of George Floyd inspired companies and organizations globally to support the Black Lives Matter movement and join up to help stop systemic racism.   Some organizations and companies used this moment to address disparities in talent selection, retention initiatives, improve benchmarking and begin to cultivate a cultural of inclusivity. (Sault, 2020) 

Likewise, many companies are moving toward developing diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.  In 2017, a PwC study showed that 87% of CEO’s promote DE&I programs and 80% stated that they were actively developing a pipeline of diverse leaders. (Harris, 2019)

The DE&I emphasis makes sense considering the change in the demographics of society, in the social landscape, and the proven bottom line of a heterogenous workforce.  McKenzie’s latest research shows that companies with gender, ethnic and cultural diversity on their executive teams, outperform their peers on profitability.

So, why are there many DE&I programs that are not successful? For example, the share of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 dropped by 25% in 2018 (from 32 to 24.)   Another study subset of the Fortune 500 showed that in 2017 75% of CEOs were white men, where Latino/a and black executives remained underrepresented. (Harris, 2019.)

I specifically became interested in researching this area as I informally discussed with DE&I specialists and on the ground managers the challenge presented when comprehensive, by the book strategies were created, yet the organizations they supported often struggled with leadership commitment and action, changing organizational culture, and promoting behaviors that lead to significant diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes that show measurable results across the organization.

What I ponder on is in addition to the DE&I strategic and training tools that are most used to facilitate effective DE&I initiatives, how can executive and inclusion coaching play a role to help companies and organizations demonstrate positive outcomes in this dynamic area?

Before we go deeper into coaching as a strategy to support DE&I, we can consider what is the importance of DE&I in today’s corporate and organizational workforce.

Today, diversity represents a business issue; it is not just a legal, political, or public relations issue.

How organizations deal with diversity, equity and inclusion including its workforce, markets, suppliers have a significant impact on their strategies, productivity, market penetration, customer service, recruitment costs, turnover rate and other day-day business actions (Katz, Miller (1996) 

What have we learned?

What we have learned is that for diversity to be realized, the concept of inclusion within an organizational culture is critical to workplace diversity (Katz and Miller, 1996.)   Inclusion means making it possible for individuals of different groups to succeed by creating a workplace that values who they are, what they offer, and provides opportunities for them to develop their full potential (Harris, 2019.)    Inclusion reflects societal values.   And when done well, it creates opportunities for growth, flexibility, and adaptation in the workplace and in the marketplace for the employee and for the organization (Katz and Miller, 1996)

The organizations that focus on inclusion are committed to constant change, continuous improvement and actioning 360 vision to create effective inclusive engagement that gains from the synergy and differences that can be brought together.  

The ultimate idea with DE&I strategies that must be reviewed per organization is to create an environment in which everyone feels it is acceptable to take risks and recognizes that there may be times when they are uncomfortable, paving the way for strategies that resonate with members of the workforce and facilitates “buy-in at a deeper level” that results in action and not just compliance. (Harris, 2019)

Diversity without inclusion may produce numbers of employees that are representative but when diversity is coupled with inclusion, there can be a real transformation.  The big challenge with DE&I efforts is that it is hard to change ingrained behaviors. 

Where does executive coaching play a role?

For me, this is where executive coaching along with traditional DE&I strategies can help to change culture, organizational mindset, identify blind spots and unconscious bias that interferes with otherwise useful approaches around DE&I within organizations.

Executive / Inclusion coaching can be set up to help CEO’s, C-Suite executives, managers, and organizational leaders to recognize deep and ingrained assumptions that impact the culture of organizations.   Coaching leaders can help them to devise a clear and unified approach to a culture of inclusion.  Coaching provides leaders a safe and confidential space to sort through what may be their own transformation to allow them to lead their organization.  Coaching can challenge leaders and diversity practitioners to go beyond “lip service” to recognizing the need to change the culture and behavior that prevents them from seeing the outcomes and business results that they know are needed.

Inclusion coaching looks to encourage senior leaders to be curious and listen to new and courageous conversations about the “how” to change. (Harris, 2019.) Coaches that focus on inclusion should first have a strong foundation in executive coaching that provides the core strategies to engage senior leaders and the DE&I professionals in a comprehensive coaching process that leads to real results and outcomes. 

What is consistent as it relates to coaching for diversity and inclusion is the realization that before an organization can expect the new inclusive competencies to be valued and practiced by its general population, its senior executive must be able to model those competencies.   Coaching of senior executives is vital to that change effort.    

Within the literature that I reviewed, it was important that senior leaders are coached, trained, and aligned with the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in their organizations.   This is stated as an important marker of success. 

The other culture change effort that is critical to success, is that leaders have coaches that help them understand the rationale behind their change agent roles:

  • Why the culture change is important to the organization?
  • Why cultural change is required to leverage diversity?  (For example, inclusive norms and values, human resources systems and benefits, and management styles and practices.)  (Katz and Miller, 1996)
  • The change process is ongoing – not like turning on a light switch.

Informed organizational leaders understand diversity, equity, and inclusion as a business imperative.  Diversity alone does not establish a competitive edge.  The institution of diversity can create tension, conflict, misunderstanding and frustration within the organization unless there is a focused effort to develop a culture that supports, honors and values individual differences.  When employees can visibly see how individual contributions from a diverse and inclusive workforce contributes to overall company success, they obtain an appreciation for DE&I. (Kapila, Hines, Searby, 2016)

What can you do to move forward your organizations DE&I approach?  

There are established strategies that have been effective in creating successful DE&I results.  Focusing on the organizational culture is key. Creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture is the foundation for moving forward a successful DE&I strategy.  I love the book by La’Wana Harris entitled, Diversity Beyond Lip Service. This is a no-nonsense, down-to-earth approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion into your workforce.

What is apparent to me after working with several DE&I professionals is the importance of Senior Management embracing and modeling the behavior change and ultimate inclusion culture that is an integral component of a successful DE&I initiative.  “Lip Service” is not enough.   A roll-up the sleeves, top-down/ bottom-up approach along with senior leaders adopting a new set of competencies is required to help develop a culture that supports, honors and values individual differences. 

Be curious about what more can be done.  At the same time, gain insight through internal and external research to benchmark where your organization is not only at the initiation of the DE&I effort, but throughout the DE&I process of transformation.

Consider using coaching as a DE&I tool within your strategic game plan.   Coaching senior leaders and DE&I practitioners is not a component of the DE&I strategy within many organizations.   Coaches can help support informed leaders as they develop the necessary skills to lead cultural change and facilitate a broad understanding of the connection between an inclusive culture and organizational success.  

This is not an easy task as the barriers to inclusion are rooted in the structures, culture and institutional dynamics of the organization and then often co-signed by the wider society.  It is a daunting task.  For the culture of an organization to be changed, its systems, structures, rewards, norms, and behaviors must also be changed.    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion may require senior leaders and the whole organization to adapt new ways of behaving, managing, interacting, partnering and doing business.  (Katz and Miller, 1996.)

What needs to happen to see a more diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is an evolving area of focus for many corporations and organizations in today’s world.  The everchanging environment including demographics, social landscape and competing business priorities have had an impact on the workforce of the 21st century.  As a result, there has been a substantial movement toward companies and non-profit groups working diligently to establish a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization.

In recent years, there have been successful DE&I programs across the workplace spectrum.  Yet, in-spite of these notable efforts, there are still long-standing inequities in the workforce.   In many cases, this has been attributed to the lack of a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives where inclusion has been deemed a most critical area of focus. Those organizations that do inclusion well, who are committed to change and continuous improvement and make DE&I a business imperative most often have created a foundation for business success.

What has also surfaced in my research is the importance of executive coaching and inclusion coaching to address the underlying organizational structure, policies, values, and culture that are critical to realizing organizational change that are foundational to DE&I programs. Through my own experience in coaching and through the research for this blog, I have learned that the best opportunity to see real results in behavior and organizational change is to include coaching as a critical component of the DE&I strategy focusing on both senior leaders and DE&I professionals responsible for DE&I within their organizations.   There is not one way to achieve a diverse, equitable and an inclusive culture.   This is an ever-changing landscape.  Strong DE&I programs require visible leadership that believe, value and model diversity, equity and inclusion and these leaders require ongoing coaching to help them unlock the skills, behaviors and attitudes that lead to diverse and inclusive organizations and foster real results.