“Thinking about bringing in a Chief Diversity Officer to “own” #diversity, #equity and #inclusion work at your company? Don’t do that. Diversify your board instead, then tie the salary of every executive leader to the company’s progress on DE&I goals. You’ll create collective ownership real quick.” Lily Zheng, organizational consultant, DEI Changemaker, Author of Gender Ambiguity in the Workplace and The Ethical Sellout, as seen on LinkedIn this week.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the worldwide protests supporting #BlackLivesMatter, the phones of DEI consultants have been ringing off the hook. We’ve had a number of inquiries about unconscious bias training at NextGen Orgs. While we’re happy that organizations are suddenly more interested in DEI work, an unconscious bias training is just the beginning.
Many companies are thinking about bringing in a Chief Diversity Officer these days. However, the challenge of making an organization inclusive of all people is complex. Google has been actively working on inclusion for several years now, and they’ve barely made a dent. But at least they’ve made progress.
There are four reasons why inclusion is complex.
- Major corporate decisions happen at the top. If the Board of Directors is not diverse, that’s the head of the hydra. Although companies have been posting their statements of solidarity in the past week or two, many are missing the mark. They’re performative at best, and harmful at the worst. For example, Adidas was quick to jump on Nike’s “Don’t Do It” bandwagon, rather than thinking for themselves. They eventually released a statement, but with no call to action. A quick look at their Boards shows that the companies who’ve already been working on diversifying their boards have stronger and more actionable statements of solidarity and actions, even if they still have work to do around ethnic diversity. For example, Etsy’s Board is 50% women and their leadership team is 4/7 women. They made a strong solidarity statement and donated $1 M to organizations supporting justice and Black lives.
- Restorative HR practices must be in place. This is where Google has placed a lot of
emphasis. They’ve made resumes blind by wiping names and addresses that could give away a person’s gender and/or ethnicity. Moreover, they’ve moved to standardized interviews to minimize the unconscious biases of hiring managers. Look at the job descriptions in your company. Do you use the gender-neutral pronouns they/their? Or do you use gender pronouns like he, or even he/she?
- Unconscious bias training should be mandatory for all employees. Therefore, it should be part of the onboarding process. Short on cash? Choose 4-6 of the tests here and have all employees take them and share their results. Have group discussions about the results. Talk about what you can do to minimize your biases. And then find a way to pay for training. It’s that important.
- Belonging. Belonging is a basic human need. As a result, it is essential for developing psychological safety. Google’s Aristotle Project found that psychological safety is the most important ingredient for high performing teams. But it’s not something you can take a test to figure out. It’s not something that a one-time training will make happen. Belonging is where most organizations fall short.
Belonging is defined as having an affinity for a place or situation.
It’s a sense of fitting in and feeling like you are an important member of a group. Here’s where most DEI initiatives stall or go sideways.
The limbic system, also known as the paleomammalian cortex, is located deep inside the brain. It is responsible for the fight or flight response. In reality, there are four ways the limbic system responds to perceived threats. They are fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. Fawning is a response where a person “kisses up” to someone they perceive to be a threat. This is important to understand. It’s a major response that marginalized people use to keep themselves safe from those in power.
Another fun fact about the limbic system is that it perceives as a threat people who are different from you. It thinks any new experience is a threat. The only things the limbic system knows are safe are things you’ve already experienced and survived. Can you see the flaw in the system?
The limbic system is one reason why creating a culture of true belonging is so difficult. We know that diverse teams outperform homogenous teams, so we strive to build diversity into the organization. But then individual team members have different backgrounds and experiences, which may cause them to subconsciously perceive other team members as a threat. Note that this is usually a deeply subconscious perception. There are a number of good ways to short-circuit the limbic system. For example, when we share an intense experience together, we re-route the neural pathways so they see those who shared the experience as “same.” This is why experiences like ropes courses can be so successful at team building.
The second reason for creating a culture of true belonging is more challenging to address. We live in a culture built on white supremacy. There are observable symptoms of a white supremacy culture that include perfectionism, defensiveness, and either-or thinking. Specifically, if these symptoms exist in your culture, they will make it uncomfortable for marginalized people. And if you haven’t worked actively to eradicate these symptoms, you can bet that they exist by default. If you really want to create a culture of belonging, you’ll want to fix the symptoms that are at the root of the issue. Ask us how we can help.
Johanna Lyman is the Founder and CEO of NextGen Orgs.
She is a Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach with over fifteen years of experience in implementing organization wide change strategies for both Fortune 500 companies and Small Businesses.
At NextGen Orgs, they use a combination of unique delivery methods and processes that crack the code on establishing lasting organizational behavior changes in a relatively short period of time. Their proprietary and evolutionary system can eliminate months of frustration often associated with developing strong leadership and building a cohesive, collaborative team.Johanna is a professional speaker, available to speak on a variety of topics related to culture, communication, innovation, and leadership skills. She is the Board President for the Bay Area Chapter of Conscious Capitalism and is deeply versed in how to help businesses be a force for good in the world. Learn more (URL: https://www.nextgenorgs.com/about/). Contact Johanna at firstname.lastname@example.org