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How to Launch Your DEI Program From Scratch

The idea of creating a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program from scratch can be daunting. You want to do it right and not just give lip service to employees and the greater community, but where do you start? And how do you make sure that your program resonates with every employee?

We talked to DEI Strategist and Facilitator, J. Israel Greene of Greene Consulting Group about creating an active and healthy DEI program and where to begin.

First up, know where you are.

"Companies need to start with an honest look at where their DEI practices are today. Once they know where they’re starting from, they can put actions in place to move toward a best practice program."

Israel Greene
– Israel Greene, DEI Strategist and Facilitator

Is Your Company Reactive, Progressive, or Somewhere in Between?

DEI is definitely a boardroom buzzword these days, but to industry experts like Israel, there is a clear-cut way to delineate the real players from the role players.

He identified five levels that describe where companies are on the DEI continuum. They range from inactive—where no work has begun—to having an established program with best practices in place.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the organizations that talk a big game are usually the ones with the most work to do.

Inactive Companies Aren’t Making DEI a Priority

Companies in the inactive category don’t spend much time thinking about DEI until they’re asked about it.

“We find out they have no practices, or their initiatives aren’t part of their organizational goals,” Israel says. “When we ask if employees would say without hesitation that their practices are tied to the company’s vision and mission, the answer is usually no.”

That’s a problem.

Take, for example, a client of Israel’s that came to him thinking their issue was employee diversity. It didn’t take much assessment to determine that this issue wasn’t diversity at all. The company had plenty of diversity within its employee base.

The problem was equity. All the employees from underrepresented groups worked at the lower levels of the organization. There was little to no representation of minority groups in middle and senior management.

“They would rank at the level of ‘inactive’ as it related to the Internal grouping of recruitment, advancement, and retention. In this case DEI wasn’t integrated at all into the talent management process. This is one of the reasons this area ranked at a level of inactive. The goal here is to create or maintain a workforce that is equitably representative across levels and functions,” Israel says.

The next level is a slight step up in the right direction but could still use some improvement.

Reactive DEI Practices Are More About Image Than Impact

Companies at a reactive level work from a compliance mindset. They take action when they have to and it’s primarily to adhere to relevant laws, employee dissatisfaction or social pressures.

Looking at Israel’s client story, his group helped the company implement coaching, training, and guidance to address the conscious and unconscious bias that was blinding the entire talent development process.

This was a great next step, but the company designated white males as program leaders. None of them had a deep enough cultural competence or training to be true allies to underrepresented groups.

“They hadn’t been trained or guided to understand what the conversation looks like as an ally of those underrepresented groups,” Israel highlights. “We discovered that the power proximity wasn't as active for employees of color in the organization as it was for their white counterparts. They didn't have access to the leadership team, they didn't have a sponsor, they didn't have a mentor internally.”

So BIPOC employees had little access to the resources that could actually help them advance their careers. The DEI program was in place, but it wasn’t fulfilling its mission.

If companies want to move to the next level, they need to look at the value of DEI for their employees and their organization.

Proactive DEI Practices Are Considered the Bare Minimum

At the proactive level, DEI programs are company-wide, well-communicated and tied to some value that impacts the entire organization. Everyone from senior leaders to entry-level employees understand how the program increases efficiency and impacts the bottom line.

Companies with proactive DEI practices implement programs that have an impact across the whole of the organization. This often sets the stage for progressive practices—that’s where the real benefits can be seen and realized.

Progressive DEI Practices Create Opportunities for Success

Once a company is implementing progressive DEI programs, they’re using benchmarks and KPIs to measure effectiveness. They can show a trajectory from where the programs start to demonstrate the impact across the organization with results and outcomes.

Using Israel’s client example again, they reached a progressive level once senior leaders were actively looking for emerging leaders within underrepresented groups to be mentored and began to tie DEI activities directly to performance bonuses. This gave employees a path to future success and the company a path to representation at every level of management.

The highest level of DEI programming is when it is following best practices.

DEI Best Practices Give Way to Exponential Growth

Companies reach the best practice level when their DEI practices are so inherent to the organization, they serve as a foundation for everything the company does. There is no initiative without a DEI component, because it’s assumed and repeatable.

This is where Israel sees exponential growth in organizations because they are harnessing all their employee resources at their best. Employees feel appreciated and at home in their work environment.

So how do organizations reach this level? They need a sustainability model that will drive DEI programming.

A DEI Sustainability Model

The DEI conversation isn’t about new challenges. They've been around since the beginning of time. What is relatively new is people’s willingness or, in some cases, their coercion to address those challenges.

Done right, your approach to addressing DEI challenges accounts for all the factors involved.

That’s where a sustainability model helps. It breaks the DEI process into four basic steps that look at the foundation of the challenge, internal and external tactics, as well as how all of the steps can be bridged together.

Let’s look at this model through the lens of a problem almost every company has to deal with right now—the great resignation.

Set the Foundation: What Problem Are You Trying to Solve?

Within any company, the challenge isn’t just that people are quitting their jobs. Specific people are quitting. Namely, women.

"What we know is that women are leaving at a rate of two or three times that of men. So we have to solve for the problem of retaining and growing female talent in the workplace."

Israel Greene
– Israel Greene, DEI Strategist and Facilitator

Retaining women in the workforce and giving them a path for advancement is a core problem that can be solved through an intentional DEI program. So how do you go about making that happen?

Internal: What Needs to Be Done Within the Company to Solve the Problem?

On a general level, what needs to be done is simple. Companies need to attract, engage, retain, and promote women within the company. And companies need mentorship and career development infrastructure that pairs leaders with women to support them as they move up.

But what does “support” look like?

Is there a model? Does it have a formal structure? Is there a communication component? All of that needs to be fleshed out to help solve the problem.

There are also the external factors to be considered.

External: What Has to Happen Outside the Company to Solve the Problem?

Whether a company creates the best mentorship program or not, they still face the risk of losing female employees who need to be replaced. How does your company communicate to female candidates that they have opportunities for advancement? Do your compensation and benefits align with industry standards? Are you communicating the right messaging to attract the type of talent you need?

These are all considerations outside of the company. Finally, you need to look at how you bridge all the steps.

Bridging: How Do All the Steps Work Together?

This is where assessments and measurements are important. Companies that truly take this issue seriously will assign a KPI to their goal and track progress at least quarterly.

You need to know how all of the tactics you’ve put in place impact each other, and if any of them need to be adjusted or removed.

The bridging step is the oversight that ensures your strategy and tactics help to make your goal achievable.

Israel shared even more suggestions to help companies get started with the DEI programs, specifically, the action items they can focus on now to make an immediate impact.

Actions to Take Right Now

When Israel and his team work with clients, they provide 10 action items that companies need to make a priority for their DEI program to become a reality. We’ve pulled the top four items that you can start with.

1. Put a Stake in the Ground

Every employee in your organization should be crystal clear about where your company stands with regard to DEI initiatives. They won’t know unless you clearly identify your stance and establish how your company values relate to that stance.

2. Listen to Your Employees

You’re creating these initiatives for your employees, right? Then why wouldn’t you want to find out how they feel about where the company is regarding DEI? What do they think needs to be addressed? What are the biggest challenges in their minds?

Conduct a focus group or listening session facilitated by an expert that will help you gather and glean the information you need to create a solid program that addresses the specific needs within your organization.

3. Tie Your DEI Initiative to Your Bottom Line

It’s hard to justify spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on an initiative when you can’t tie it to business success—and DEI initiatives definitely contribute to business success.

"If you can’t help your C-suite understand how your initiatives are linked to financial success, the likelihood of them buying in is going to be minimal."

Israel Greene
– Israel Greene, DEI Strategist and Facilitator

You need to be able to justify the cost and show the anticipated outcomes from spending the money.

Benchmark Your Results

You need to determine how you will measure success and how you will track progress. From the illusion of inclusion at the inactive level to formalizing training policies at the reactive level to building allies at the proactive and progressive levels to best practice leadership training.

Your metrics can be very simple. Start with two most prominent elements of diversity—race and gender. Measure the number of new hires, percentage of promotions, whether that percentage is comparable to their white or male counterparts, and how all of this impacts qualitative performance and quantitative results. However, be aware that stopping here will only foster what is known as ‘vanity metrics’ and give the illusion of inclusion in your organization.

Start Developing Your DEI Program Today

By understanding the DEI practices levels, the sustainability model, and the basic action items, you will be on your way to creating a progressive DEI program at the very least. If you would like assistance in developing your program or have any questions about how to put these ideas into practice, WellRight can help.

And, if you want more information about J. Israel Greene’s remaining action steps, watch our webinar that features his thought leadership on DEI programming.


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