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DEI – here’s what the experts want you to know

Every employee deserves to reach their full potential. But not all workers get fair access to the corporate “ladder”. Following our recent research report, ‘Diversity and The Dream: Discrimination in American Hiring’, we got three leading DEI professionals in conversation, and here’s what they had to say…

Talent & Diversity: Is your business prepared to change?

Are you guilty of talking about Diversity, but not really acting on it? 

2020 has more than shown that inequality still prevails in the USA. Now’s the time to stop talking and start changing — sooner rather than later.

Learning from the experts

They say that you learn more from failure than success. And 2020 has given us many examples of social and organizational failure to reflect on. The black-white pay gap is wider today than it was twenty years ago. And 83% of gender-diverse individuals have been discriminated against in the working world.

We need to push for change collectively — learning from each other’s experiences and improving the workplace experience for our employees. As HR managers and business leaders, that’s our responsibility. And who better to learn from than those who are pushing for change as their day job? 

Read the full report 👆

Is now the era for change?

In November 2020, we invited three Diversity and Inclusion experts to join us as our (virtual) table:

  • Dr Brandi Baldwin — Founder and CEO of Millennial Ventures Holdings and Founder of Calling All Allies
  • Melinda Walega — VP Talent Acquisition & DEI Champion North America at Schneider Electric
  • Torin Ellis — Diversity strategist, Consultant and Speaker

The conversation was chaired by Gareth Jones, CEO of Headstart. The discussion captured awakening perspectives that will prove invaluable to anybody shaping their DEI strategy.

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Diversity, Inclusion and Equity — it’s everyone’s responsibility to get it right

Let’s start with the essentials: how well do we understand what we’re fighting for?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — or DEI for short — are often used interchangeably in business. But that would be starting off on the wrong foot altogether.

Failing to understand the difference between D, E, and I doesn’t just risk embarrassment in professional conversations, it can also undermine your Talent and Diversity strategy, too.

“The D and the I in DEI is not created equal, so to speak”

— Dr Brandi Baldwin

What can you do in your specific role? It’s a question that Dr Brandi raised in our conversation, saying that too many people are focused on the D; making steps to “brown-ify” their businesses without really considering if the culture is inclusive or whether the structures are in place for that change to be equitable at all.

So before we go much further, let’s pan back and define Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — to straighten everything out…

Defining ‘diversity’

In the relational setting of a workplace, diversity refers to ‘difference’. It’s about the differences between people within your teams, company, and ecosystem. If a team is racially diverse, it comprises people of different colors and nationalities. Similarly, gender-diversity refers to a workforce representing the total cis-gender and trans-gender spectrum.

Defining ‘equity’

When we treat everyone equally, we treat the whole the same — with broad brush strokes. But when we treat everyone equitably, we focus on individualistic needs instead. 

Therefore, equity is about acknowledging that everyone in a diverse workplace requires support in different ways, in relation to their needs, experiences, and opportunities. 

Defining ‘inclusion’

This concept is perhaps the most important. As the old saying goes: “diversity” is an invitation to a party, “inclusion” is being asked to dance. However, being asked to do something does not equal inclusion. Inclusion is about value and respect.  

For your workplace to be fully inclusive, you need to understand — and then implement — the policies and processes each individual needs to feel valued.

“[Often when we talk about D&I] We are penalizing, or being punitive, to white men. And while [white men] deserve a good portion of that heat, that heat is something that should be spread around.”

— Torin Ellis

Holding everyone accountable for DEI

Who are the biggest culprits of discrimination in your organization? Truth is, we’re all responsible for our own impact. And we’re all accountable for a culture of DEI. 

As Torin goes on to explain, when female HR professionals offer compensation packages to female recruits — knowing that they’re under-compensated versus their male peers — they’re being complicit in pay inequality. If you have any responsibility within the organization, you are accountable for DEI. It’s that simple.

Dr Brandi backs this up, stating that people need to be disciplined in the space of DEI — fighting for equity for every single person. Educate yourself, know the policies, listen to your staff, and create the space for feedback, too.

Yes, everyone’s accountable. But it’s leaders who need to be hungry for change — and humble, too

Leaders guard the tipping point. Without support from the top, even the most inspired DEI strategies will fail to get off the ground.

And if you ask Dr Brandi, some companies are merely window dressing when it comes to DEI:

“There’s too much blaming, there’s too much shaming, and there’s too much lip service — even from those people who are well-meaning allies […] I think a lot of companies are moving too fast in the wrong direction. They need to defer to real experts to see what they need to do, not what they think they need to do.”

— Dr Brandi Baldwin

Trust the consultants — they have an outsider view of your organization. And they’re not going to hold back from telling you what you need. Allow feedback, allow guidance, and you’ll start seeing a change in the right direction.

There’s no room for tokenism in DEI

Here’s a crucial question: are you posturing or performing?

“Let’s do something substantive” implores Torin. HR professionals need to be proactive — not to cherry-pick candidates because they’ll deliver against diversity quotas, but to view their hires and promotions through a genuine DEI lens.

“If your leadership board lacks diversity, go out and find individuals to add diverse dimensions.”

Torin Ellis

Having a diverse management team says — and does — a lot more than a press release, after all.

And what’s the point in building a diverse workforce, and promoting your “values” over social media, if those individuals can’t reach their potential in their roles? The former is posturing, the latter is performing. Where do you sit on the spectrum?

That said, managers don’t have to go it alone. In fact, it can be dangerous if they do

Leaders can find strength in community. 

External Talent & Diversity consultants won’t just challenge you to push further, they’ll also be a valuable sounding board and source of inspiration and experience. Creating change takes commitment — that’s something the experts in the field know best.

Melinda Walega argues that HR managers need to refrain from self-diagnosing their company. There is absolutely a risk of being too close to the team and the organization to see area for opportunities and causes for concern. 

Torin calls his service a “truth serum” — a much-needed reality check to show leaders what their teams might be missing.

Self-diagnoses can lead to “copycat” solutions

We mustn’t be swayed by competitor initiatives either. Just because a similar company is giving their team unconscious bias training doesn’t mean you have to. In fact, the chances are your team needs something completely different, as they’re operating under a unique company culture. 

Failing to recognize this will only lead to greater problems for your organization. It may well waste your precious time, money, and effort, too.

“I’ve had clients argue back because they just want what they want, and then they wonder why we are having these conversations. At what point are we going to be able to submit to expertise? […] Just like I’m not going to tell my doctor how to do a surgery, I’m not going to do that in DEI”

— Dr Brandi Baldwin

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Talent & Diversity: it’s as much about promoting and developing, as hiring and recruiting

Remember what we said at the start, being Equitable means understanding and delivering against individual professional needs. You can’t hire diverse talent and then leave them to fend for themselves. 

Read about the report this talk was based off.

DEI is a two-pronged approach in recruitment and talent development — and it needs filtering through the entire organization. What do your workers need to reach their full potential, at all levels? How do those needs differ between genders, nationalities, neurodiversity, and other should-be celebrated characteristics? 

Melinda Walega touches upon this when she introduces the “open talent market”: an AI solution to stop promotional opportunities being based on “who you know”. Instead, it facilitates the opportunity for all — an ethos that’s at the very heart of what we do here at Headstart as well.

Headstart is on a mission to transform the way organisations hire! We are the world's first diversity driven Applicant Matching and Management System. We use Machine Learning and Data Science to transform the recruitment process, enabling clients to find the right high potential employees regardless of gender, ethnic status, sexual orientation or age.

With major brands like Accenture publicly supporting our mission, Headstart is already improving the recruitment experience for candidates around the world.

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