Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace is Too Vital to Ignore

Having a diverse and inclusive workforce is not only valuable to have in an organization, it’s vital. Integrating strategies to develop and foster diversity and inclusion is essential to enhancing your organization’s culture, advancing your business and building a better community.

Wendy McSweeney, Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer with Truist Financial Corporation, and Kenya Dunn, DE&I Executive Fellow with the Charleston Metro Chamber, are two leaders that understand the value that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) bring to an organization and the power that it can have in making our region and country a better place to do business.

In a recent webinar, the two discussed the meanings behind Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The themes included:

Diversity – Who is present or not?

Equity – How is power operated?

Inclusion – Who is participating?

If you are like me, you may think that, during this time especially, these three important words mean different things to different people. But I learned something critical here – they don’t have to.

At our core, the majority of people want to be loved for who they are, valued for their thoughts and ideas and appreciated for what makes them unique. Right?

Once we all can agree on that, then we can begin to learn how to create a space that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion.

Why is Diversity Important?

Inclusion and Diversity go hand-in-hand; a culture cannot be inclusive, diverse and successful if all teammates do not feel a sense of belonging.

Truth is, DE&I is shaping the modern business community and it’s time for everyone to get on board.

Did you know there are five generations in the workforce right now? That’s the first time in history. Let’s use that to our advantage and work together to identify these new shifts in consumer buying power, business imperative and stakeholder expectations.

How To Bring DE&I into Your Workplace

In Wendy’s words, you need to have “bold and courageous conversations” with your teammates and organizational leaders. This isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. In this phase especially, respect plays an integral part. Wendy and Kenya have both had successful careers in the corporate world, but it was obvious they still enjoyed learning from each other and were open to hearing what the other had to say about a certain topic or question. Let’s strive to be like that – willing to offer our own perspectives but receptive of others, too.

Kenya reminded the webinar participants that these conversations are dialogues – not debates. Set a level playing field that is open to others’ thoughts and personal experiences.

Here are a few quick tips to creating a safe space for bold and courageous conversations (either virtually or in person):

Get buy in from the top down in your organization

Teammates or direct reports will not be interested in having bold and courageous conversations if they do not think their leaders are listening or see their input as valuable. Ensure that your leadership team is on board and will continue the initiative by doing something with the information they receive.

Identify a moderator/conversation lead (either external or internal)

The moderator/lead in this role should be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and trained on how to answer specific questions around DE&I.

For Wendy, she has been trained and has a lot of experience in the field. As the Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer for Truist Financial Corporation, she took on the role as lead and they were able to keep someone internal for this important position. Kenya, who serves as the Chamber’s DE&I Executive Fellow, and is well trained in this work, is a great example of an organization bringing in an external source to benefit their team and business members.

Whether you have an internal or external diversity lead depends on the nature of your organization and your ability to offer training for an internal lead. The good news is that there are so many resources out there to help you. A simple google search will bring up trainings, videos, books, movies, speakers and a variety of information to get you and your team started. (If you are looking for a children’s book on diversity, I highly recommend Chris Singleton’s Different: A Story about Loving Your Neighbor)

Set ground rules

Spoiler alert: Respect should be rule number one. I mean, shouldn’t that always be the case? In a perfect world, I suppose. I digress…

Along with respect, ensure that your rules are broad enough to leave the conversation open-ended, but specific enough to guide the questions that you and your organization would like to better understand and learn from your team.

Use measurements for success

Identify goals that you’d like to accomplish from these bold and courageous conversations. What would you consider a success? Have ideas in mind before launching into these dialogues.

After the Dialogues, What’s Next?

Go over what was said in the conversations. What are they asking for and what does your organization need to do a better job with?

Use these dialogues as a framework to map out your company’s DE&I initiatives and show the team that you are taking the necessary steps to ensure everyone has the opportunity to not only have a seat at the table, but have their voice heard. Diversity initiatives aren’t just one training or one conversation. They should be intertwined in all of the work and trainings that you do.

I’m extremely grateful to Wendy McSweeney and Kenya Dunn for offering such valuable advice at a time that we need it most. To view the full webinar about Leveraging Inclusive Strategies, click here.

Stay tuned to learn more about the Chamber’s DE&I initiatives and future events that you and your company can be a part of.

As for me, I’m going to stick to the valuable lessons that my parents and grandparents instilled in me. If you can’t say anything nice don’t say it at all, and treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Let’s be the change.

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