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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) has never been more important. The pandemic has created historical and structural biases more shouting than ever, and increased public scrutiny of social injustices drove the corporate world to act.
DEI organizational policies – active steps to ensure an open and welcoming workplace where people of different ethnicities, genders, abilities, cultures and personalities have representation, opportunities and support – have become essential to attract and recruit talent and stay innovative. But most companies still doing things right today.
In reality, “doing things right” is an iterative process. No one needs to get it right today; commit to “doing better”. Adopting this attitude makes a big difference in spreading a company’s caring culture. It allows people to let their guard down and present themselves authentically and honestly. The way to get a “right” DEI is to realize all the ways we still haven’t done it today and try to do it better.
Related: Here’s How to Have the Most Powerful DEI Conversations
The job is never done
Spoiler alert – a DEI leader’s job is never done. When leaders conclude that they have succeeded in removing all visible and invisible barriers to give everyone equal access to opportunities to thrive, guess what? Another is revealed and must be dealt with.
But we can’t just tick boxes. Our best DEI efforts come from listening to and learning from each other in the workplace. We can constantly develop new programs, resources and forums with the contribution of the team. We must identify obstacles or concerns as they arise and address them in order to create an emotionally safe work environment for all in the hope that it will improve over time.
CI&T is a multicultural organization, and different geographic contexts generate different sets of intersectionality between cultures on different bases. When we put together an employee resource group to meet the unique needs of parents with children in remote learning, those meetings highlighted another concern. We found that several employees who had moved from Brazil to the United States not only did not understand our education system, but also did not understand our benefits program. We weren’t explaining it in a way that they would know, because not only is English not their first language, but the whole “system” that we as natives inherently operate in in the United States. United was also foreign to them.
This employee resource group has turned to supporting our employees relocating to North America. We helped with some life skills, like finding a school for their children. We’ve helped with the resources available to parents if their child is neurodivergent – even arranging doctor’s appointments for the first time using a complex insurance portal. By remaining open to feedback, we have seen the need emerge and met the needs of our expatriate employees, juggling the cultural acclimatization of their complex families.
Related: Here’s How to Foster Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in a Remote Work World
Always be nimble
To do DEI well, be ready and willing to adapt. During the pandemic, when people started to rally for justice for George Floyd, we knew we had to do something. In an ordinary world, we would have come together as an organization in person to support each other. But the pandemic has complicated everything.
So for a few weeks we tried to open up a space at the end of our Friday staff meetings for people to meet, talk and connect. I was the host and things were going great – until they weren’t. A conversation that has become uncomfortable between two people who walk in very different shoes. The safe space I thought I was giving people was suddenly dangerous. I immediately felt out of my wheelhouse. I reached out to each of them over the weekend and not only did I resolve the conflict, but each of them got away with it by developing more empathy for the other’s journey. . I realized I was in over my head regarding the actual problem.
We didn’t know what we didn’t know about DEI, but we knew enough to realize we needed more experts and expertise or we were going to be wrong. So we called in a consultant and led many workshops, starting with the board of directors. We kept space after each to glean feedback on ways to improve. And each time, we understood a little better because we weren’t afraid to ask for feedback in order to learn and improve.
Related: How to restructure your organization with DEI at the forefront
Even when we think we are moving the needle, getting the DEI right still means moving it further until true equity is achieved. There are many iterations of DEI, many different marginalized groups, and many areas of intersectionality. Women, trans women, black/brown trans women, single mother black trans women, etc. — these different identities require different levels of support. The limitless ways in which various needs can intersect and change is why we must always seek to provide better help and support beyond what the company already does and admit when we are wrong.
DEI is an iterative improvement process, so make a “what-can-we-do-better” policy the norm. In our company, we work towards a culture where people can peel back our different layers of diversity, never being afraid to push the extra mile to provide the best support for everyone. We are not afraid to be vulnerable, admit what we don’t know and do our best to improve.
After all, we are all humans living in different realities, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, each trying to show off in the world. Ensuring that each of these different worlds has equitable access to resources and opportunities requires constant evaluation and adaptation as we continue to peel back the layers and find new ways to improve. When leaders build a culture of caring that aligns the entire company around DEI as something they can always do better, DEI is done right.
Related: How DEI and Sustainability Can Grow Your Triple Bottom Line