“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ~ Dr Martin Luther King

The same can be said of organizations. What they do in moments of challenge and controversy become the measure of the organization. As the largest tech companies, Meta, Alphabet, Amazon and Microsoft, laid off over 50,000 people in the first month of the new year, and Twitter fired half of its employees at the end of last year, it’s fair to say that these are challenging times. What happens to their focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) during these times of challenge and controversy is telling.

Bloomberg reports that during this purge DEI practitioners lag behind only data scientists and programmers as functions hardest hit by the layoffs. In the same article, one former employee at Twitter reported that the diversity, equity and inclusion team has been gutted from 30 people to two as 50 percent of the workforce was being fired. Given these reports, it’s not a stretch to conclude that two and a half years after the murder of George Floyd, diversity, equity and inclusion may not be as important in some organizations as before.

I continue to be surprised by how organizations deemed to be so steeped in IQ can be so lacking in emotional intelligence (EQ). They have not recognized the enabling power of DEI.

However, there are some that get it. In June of 2020, Tailored Brands, parent to such well-known brands as Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank, established a DEI Council two months before announcing their Chapter 11 restructuring. Instead of waiting and making DEI a lagging priority, they moved it front and center after recognizing the power of diversity with employees and customers. Senior Vice President Joe Bahena of Joseph Abboud Manufacturing Corp. (a Tailored Brands Company) said they saw the need to “guide our Company to become more equitable and inclusive by reflecting the diversity of the customers and communities we serve.” Today, Tailored Brand’s diversity council is as vibrant as ever.

In my last Oilwoman column, I reinforced the concept that DEI is about much more than gender and race. It’s a force multiplier. There is one constant as we meander in and out of recessions: Good performers have choices. And good performers want to work in cultures that are collaborative, innovative, cognitively diverse and inclusive. The incoming workforce has become experts at sniffing out whether an organization values diversity or is simply “virtue signaling” by saying the right things in its annual report. A McKinsey survey found that 39 percent of all respondents say they have turned down or decided not to pursue a job because of a perceived lack of inclusion at an organization. While Monster.com reports that 27 percent of candidates say they are seeking caring work environments.

In this Harvard Business Review article, Yale University’s first Black student body president, Khalil Greene, shares how a recruiter’s attempt to extol the value of DEI within her organization backfired. If you want to attract and retain strong performers, a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture is table stakes.

How Do You Know if DEI is Dead at Your Organization?

To many, a few well-placed pictures, and a buzzword-filled DEI vision statement on their website can appear to be proof of a diverse and inclusive culture. But without certain must-haves, these actions become no more than box checking. Here are a few things to look for to determine if DEI is alive and well in your organization.

Is DEI Leader Led?

Take note of how leadership shows up, starting at the top of the organization.

  • How does your top leader (CEO, commanding officer, president, chancellor) talk about diversity, equity and inclusion?
  • Is it authentic, is it believable, is it measurable?
  • Is their messaging mimicked by other leaders in a positive way?
  • Are there clear milestones for progress that are discussed in their regular communications?
  • Is DEI work primarily led by the chief diversity and inclusion officer or their equivalent, or under HR with only reactionary or intermittent action from leadership?
  • Are the CHRO’s peers within the C-Suite stepping up as executive sponsors of your Employee Research Groups (ERGs)?
  • Does the CEO speak authentically about why DEI is important to the business?

In 2017, three years before George Floyd was killed, the Superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy, Lt. General Jay Silveria, became aware of racial slurs that had surfaced at the Air Force Academy prep school. In response, he held an assembly at the Academy and required all 4,000 cadets and all his staff to attend, so that he could make crystal clear what his expectations were. He delivered a best-in-class example of how leadership shows up in times of discourse, in times of challenge and controversy. He left no doubt of the “measure the man.” In his remarks, he discusses “the power of diversity” and makes clear that if members of the academy were not aligned with his philosophy on diversity, then they need to “get out.” I encourage readers to take five minutes and see what leadership looks like. This is the best-in-class standard for providing clarity from the top.

Is Your DEI Strategy Purpose-Driven?

It’s one thing to have a vision statement that uses all the right buzzwords. It’s quite another to see if the DEI vision statement ties directly back to your organization’s overall strategic purpose.

Forbes ranks Progressive Insurance number one in creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture. Progressive’s DEI vision statement recognizes the business and altruistic drivers I spoke about in my first column. The statement notes that the business case for DEI is important, but it’s not just about the business case; it’s a human imperative. And importantly, it describes the journey Progressive has taken to understand that creating a diverse and inclusive culture is not just the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do. Progressive’s recognition of the journey reinforces the authenticity of the message.

Is DEI Part of Your Communications DNA?

Does DEI come up in only DEI specific events and references, or is it embedded in the DNA of your organization? Is it stand alone or an enabler? Is diversity given credit for business successes?

What dimensions of diversity are discussed? Are they mainly around gender and race/ethnicity, or do they include other dimensions of diversity? The evolution of diversity typically starts with gender because every man has a wife, daughter, sister, niece or someone they can directly relate to that has experienced inequities. It is easier for the majority to relate to and empathize with women. So many programs begin with gender focused programs, then they may expand to “minorities” as a group without disaggregation. This allows orgs to tout success without recognition that some groups are falling further behind. Disability, neurodiversity, sexual orientation can be further down the road – or not highlighted at all.

Where is the Accountability?

  • What is measured and how transparent is that measurement?
  • Does your organization audit for equity and inclusion?
  • If so, does it tout results and follow up actions?
  • Does it share hiring rates and promotion rates?

What Can You Do About It?

It’s important to note that no organization is doing everything, and each organization is in a different place in the journey. The checkpoints I mention here may be inflight. If your organization isn’t doing all these things, but they are on the horizon, that’s okay. The most important questions are: Does your organization know where it is on the journey, is it moving forward, and is it leader led?

So, if you’ve run this mental checklist, and you find your organization is not progressing, what can you do about it?

The answer is often dependent on where you are in the organization, and if there exists a psychologically safe environment to speak up. Too often the degree of diversity, equity and inclusion parallels that of psychological safety.

No matter where you are in the organization, you can ask questions. Inquiry is safer, and often much more effective, than accusation. The right questions framed the right way can make the right point while leading to the self-realization that your organization has more to do.

Ask foundational questions.

  1. Have we ever had an outside (third party) assess where we are in terms of DEI maturity?
  2. How does our DEI vision tie back to our corporate vision?
  3. Are we measuring the success or impact of our DEI programs?

Share thought leadership.

  1. Share articles that are constructive and educational.
  2. Share what you see competitors doing. (I call this “progress through guilt.”)
  3. Highlight wins within the organization.

Be a role model (no matter where you are in the organization).

  1. Demonstrate inclusive behavior and inclusive leadership traits.
  2. Advocate for communities outside of your own.

The rate of change in your DEI culture may have slowed in the last several months, but know that at some point leadership will change, societal events will cause us to refocus, and the competitive advantages of a diverse and inclusive culture will emerge. Progress isn’t dead; it may just be dormant, hibernating like a bear in the winter. But it will return and, when your organization embraces it, it will be better for it.

Author profile

Lee Jourdan is Chevron’s former global chief diversity and inclusion officer and former vice president commercial and business development for Chevron’s IndoAsia and Asia South business units. He has been published by The Harvard Business Review, Washington Post, and interviewed by SHRM and Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Yergin on DEI. Jourdan is co-author of From Shoeshine to Star Wars and was recognized by Business Insider in 2020 as one of 100 people transforming business in North America. Today, he is a director on the boards of PROS Holdings (NYSE: PRO) and the nonprofit SEARCH Homeless Services, an advisory board member at Pulsely Inc., and Ally Energy, and a special advisor to FTI Consulting, author and keynote speaker.

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