Deeper than Diversity: It’s Time to Take DEI Seriously

Deeper than Diversity: It’s Time to Take DEI Seriously

Sally Eaves 19/12/2021
Deeper than Diversity: It’s Time to Take DEI Seriously

If you're not purposely advancing equity, you're probably allowing inequity to persist.

Dr. Sally Eaves, Prof and Chair of Global Cyber Trust, GFCYBER

From Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to Belonging 

Words matter - they help frame our understanding of the world and shape our thoughts, actions and interactions. Inclusion, equity and diversity are all words that are increasingly used but have varying meanings for different issues and groups of people. To compound the issue, they are also often used interchangeably.

Treated separately or understood differently, they address only part of our human experience. So the word that resonates with me the most is that of 'belonging,' as it focuses on the whole.

When we feel we belong, we are living, working and socialising in an empowered space where views, beliefs and values are integrated and personal growth and collective innovation thrives. To help greater understand what can support better enablement of belonging, especially within organisational life, we must unpack the different but fully interdependent elements that make up DEI. A recent discussion with the Hoffman Global Institute for Business helps to define these terms and what success in DEI actually looks like.

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Diversity, equity and inclusion are all needed to enable belonging and achieve equality for all. Today, although talent can be found everywhere, unfortunately it remains true that democratization of opportunity for all talent is not. DEI is also an ever-changing journey and in recent times one that has quite rightly taken a far more central stage in workplaces across the world.

What are the key shared benefits to be obtained from DEI? Why do some businesses remain or become stuck in the ‘shallow end’ when it comes to getting this right? Moreover, how do organisations go deeper than diversity alone and take the whole of DEI seriously? 

Recognising that DEI Creates Shared Value

Focusing on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is not only the right thing to do but also benefits everything we do. From enhancing creativity and team satisfaction, to reducing the risk of implicit bias in areas such as AI development, it’s absolutely imperative to business success.

‘Diverse teams are more innovative—stronger at anticipating shifts in consumer needs and consumption patterns that make new products and services possible’ (McKinsey 2021).

Indeed, DEI concerns also have a direct impact on loyalty and trust. Brands which are vocal about social issues are 3X more trusted by customers than those who are not. And there is a broader impact on talent recruitment and retention too - people are seeking values alignment across their personal and professional lives. Recent research reflects that this can contribute to up to 5.4 times higher employee retention – impressive! MIT has also highlighted that the most diverse workplaces are typically the most profitable.

Equally, there are tangible business costs from not investing in DEI – as exemplified by the rise of Conscious Consumerism, a trend that has only been heightened by the pandemic. In particular, Millennial and Generation Z consumers are starting to push brands to act on diversity and inclusion. Further still, some 75% of Gen Z customers will boycott companies that discriminate against race and sexuality across advertisement campaigns, according to a McKinsey study. 

What else do organisations miss out on? It’s the 3 I’s of Inspiration, Insight and Innovation that is catalysed by a DEI embedded culture, that affords a workforce's confidence in a shared mission and their individual ability or agency to influence organisational events. These so often create the meaningful moments that matter most. 

Identifying Challenges and Fostering Opportunities

If your organization is not representative of its community, customers and colleagues, then put simply, there is important work to do. A focus on DEI cannot simply be a performative ‘tick-box’ exercise – it must be embedded and meaningful. Indeed, ensuring cultural diversity in the workplace is a process and not something that happens without governance, accessibility and continuous self-reflection. What are some common challenges?

A too narrow definition can create barriers from the outset – for example defining diversity based on predominately identity based factors such as gender and race, without expanding further to other areas, including thought diversity.

Additionally, while there is increasingly a focus on DEI at both C-suite and entry-level, attention to middle managers can be left behind. These roles typically have the greatest everyday influence on employees’ working lives and are therefore critical to driving DEI within organisations. Yet these managers are often most ‘squeezed’ and also often prone to under-representation of diversity of experience (KPMG 2021). The time is now to afford middle managers the right tools, from technology to education, ‘to do the right thing and not freeze them out’ (Hughes in Bloomberg 2021).

Seeking guidance and advice matters too! As an example, MIT provides a valuable digital hub here, including a highly tangible Decision Tree framework to support managers in specific areas. I asked Theo Lau, Co-Founder of Unconventional Ventures for her thoughts on the best reading and go-to resources she would recommend to support this progress further:

"Reading, and more importantly, reading from a diverse list of authors, can help provide a rounded perspective on where we are today in society, and more importantly, how we can drive positive change. One of my favorite books is by Caroline Criado Perez - called Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. It is an eye-opening book that illustrates how bias and discrimination are baked into our systems, in a society that treats men as the default and women as atypical, from the workplace to the public square and more. Another wonderful author whom I love is Professor Mehrsa Baradaran. Her two books: The Color of Money, and How the Other Half Banks illustrate how the banking industry and government policies contribute to the growing conversation on American inequality that we witness today"

Embedding DEI as part of Business DNA – The How

Firstly, intention matters – it is imperative to always be truly ‘intentional’ about change. DEI has to be embedded within company culture. Everyone in the organisation has to own it. As a place to start, an organisation can audit some of the things they are already doing to take a barometer of the situation ‘as is’.

Does the imagery on your website only depict one type of person? Is your team homogenous? Is the company using its ‘sphere of influence’ to impact change in the ecosystem: For example, requiring DEI commitments and transparency in partner relationships, in the same way other criteria or KPI’s may be treated?

Such an audit can then be repeated at regular intervals to allow for measurable benchmarking of progress. Setting up and actively supporting Employee Resource Groups can be a great follow-on from this activity, something very well established at organisations such as AT&T. These exist to advance professional growth and development, help people to be more aware and constantly check their biases, facilitate communication with leadership, underpin efforts to attract and retain a diverse workforce, and much more - and are well supported by employees in dedicated D&I roles too.

It is critical to ensure that you focus on the whole when it comes to recruitment and retention, paying an equal attention to attrition and promotion as to hiring. Recruiting with embedded diversity practices is an imperative - but it is only part of the equation. When diverse voices are hired but ultimately not heard ‘at the table’ businesses miss out on equity and inclusion opportunities, and those all-important innovation ‘aha’ moments, too.

As previously discussed, attention to middle management is also key - recognising that this is where a positive shift in mindset can reach more people and be the most effective. Additionally, it has been found that many mentorship programs do not reach the new hires who need supporting guidance the most, with new research suggesting that moving to a broad-based mentorship program which also pairs experienced employees with new recruits can help (Harvard Business Review 2021)

And finally, measurement matters! For example, if DEI metrics carry an equal weight to financial metrics from team level right through to contributing to C-Suite remuneration, it makes a huge difference to the process of embedding DEI within organisational culture. As a bonus, it also encourages a ‘moving beyond’ from mentorship to active sponsorship too. Put simply, if you do not collect, evaluate and apply data to support your DEI efforts, I can promise you are doing it wrong. I just can't tell you in which way…..

What Does a Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Business Look Like? What’s the Ultimate Goal?

“ I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept”. Angela Davis

This quote embodies the imperative of ownership and accountability which I believe is the ultimate goal for DEI and one applicable to every single person in an organisation.

We have entered a critical moment where diversity, equity and inclusion is rightly becoming an embedded, not a peripheral, conversation. Although there is still work to be done, we are seeing tangible change. The number of dedicated DEI roles is increasing; there is a more holistic strategic focus on DEI. Organisations are seeking cultural change, embedding DEI throughout hiring and retention processes. On the far side of the continuum, organisations are using their ‘sphere of influence’ to impact change in stakeholder groups and their wider supply chain ecosystem and increasing educational outreach.

Looking beyond, I believe critical areas to focus on are addressing the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic, for example on women and communities of colour, and right across the spectrum of pay, literacy and trust inequity gaps too.

It also raises the importance of holistic STEAM skills development around DEI, which can greatly help foster emotional intelligence and empathy, alongside better preparing workforces for an always evolving, but often ambiguous, future of work.

It is clear then that embedding diversity, equity and inclusion by design is an everyday accountable commitment which also necessitates awareness and visibility; a driving factor for launching the ‘365’ initiative which places a spotlight on role models in tech across a variety of experiences, backgrounds and roles.

The aim is to encourage curiosity in technology and to help break down barriers, both perceived and actual, to entering tech careers.

So thank you to everyone championing DEI activity – and the work continues, inspired by what must continue to change, evolve and get better in our society, businesses and communities. And as a final call to action to this piece, please do not hesitate to reach out to share your story or recommend someone you know to appear in the 365 series – your and their voice matters!

This post was sponsored byAT&T Business, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent AT&T Business’s positions or strategies.

About the Author

Dr. Sally Eaves is a highly experienced Chief Technology Officer, Professor in Advanced Technologies and a Global Strategic Advisor on Digital Transformation specialising in the application of emergent technologies, notably AI, 5G, Cyber Security, Cloud and IoT/IIoT disciplines, for both business transformation and social impact at scale. An international Keynote Speaker and Author, Sally was an inaugural recipient of the Frontier Technology and Social Impact award, presented at the United Nations and has been described as the ‘torchbearer for ethical tech’ founding Aspirational Futures to enhance inclusion, diversity, equity and belonging in the technology space and beyond. She is also Chair of Global Trust and Senior Policy Advisor at the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research.

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Sally Eaves

Tech Expert

Dr. Sally Eaves is a highly experienced Chief Technology Officer, Professor in Advanced Technologies and a Global Strategic Advisor on Digital Transformation specialising in the application of emergent technologies, notably AI, FinTech, Blockchain & 5G disciplines, for business transformation and social impact at scale. An international Keynote Speaker and Author, Sally was an inaugural recipient of the Frontier Technology and Social Impact award, presented at the United Nations in 2018 and has been described as the ‘torchbearer for ethical tech’ founding Aspirational Futures to enhance inclusion, diversity and belonging in the technology space and beyond.

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