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Moving the Needle on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Does your organization experience big shifts and real change around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) issues? One mid-size financial firm is seeing the results of their hard work surface in exciting, measurable changes.

Three years ago, they were already an amazing organization. They did a lot of good work, had a broadly diverse employee base, a passionate HR team, and proactive leaders. However, they were not fully meeting their own expectations of inclusion. They wanted to create a culture in which everyone could thrive and lead. The organization’s leadership realized the need to fill DEI gaps and were determined to find opportunities to improve.

In 2016, the firm engaged IBIS to conduct an assessment and help define gaps. After tackling several key issues, the organization repeated the assessment in 2019.

In between the assessments, the firm did the following three things:

  1. Emphasized leadership commitment and support for DEI, including a firm-wide e-learning on unconscious bias and the creation of an internal D&I website
  2. Engaged employees to get involved in improving DEI issues. The organization successfully launched three Business Resource Groups (for employees who are women, multicultural, or LGBTQ+ – and their allies). They also introduced a Diversity Council comprised of a dozen employees tasked with advising on ongoing initiatives and supporting the BRGs
  3. Created and implemented a diversity strategy

One of the biggest changes between 2016 and 2019 was leadership’s commitment to communicating the impact of DEI on the business. In 2016, only 69% of survey takers thought that the business rationale for diversity and inclusion was well understood and clearly communicated; that increased to 91% in 2019. Clearly, the emphasis on communication about DEI, including from the organization’s president, resonated with employees.

The 2019 assessment also found a 12% increase in the number of employees who feel free to voice opinions about diversity-related matters. In addition to general touchpoints, specific programming was created for LGBTQ+ and allies that provided opportunities to learn more and have deeper conversations. Employees worked to create an environment where they can call each other out in a safe way. For example, the organization created an Ouch! Card. This indicated that while the intent of a comment may have been harmless, the impact was not. Harm had been done.

These details and more will be shared when this client co-presents with Zalika Winitzer, a senior consultant at IBIS, at an upcoming conference: NEHRA’s 2019 Diversity & Inclusion Symposium on December 5 in Norwood, MA.

At end of the day, it was the client’s work that resulted in their spectacular transformation. They let passionate employees join together and lead the way. There’s still work to do and they are ready to take action. With a new two-year D&I strategic plan in place, the team is committed to seeing their organization meet the high standard of excellence they hold for themselves.

Last spring, while visiting the organization, I immediately noticed how much everything had changed in just three short years. Cultural artifacts of a thriving community were impossible to ignore. Employees wore their organization’s polo shirts and sweaters—a departure from more formalized business attire, and more accessible for everyone, too. It was easy to spot staff’s respective country and LGBTQ+/pride flags on desks, as well as multicultural bracelets.

Sweatshirts bearing the company logo were draped over chairs. Employees toasted each other’s water bottles and mugs advertising their affiliations with the women’s or LGBTQ+ group.
Staff spoke openly and readily shared their thoughts on the organization, professing their loyalty to it at length.

The energy was infectious.

And the change was everywhere.

Cedar Pruitt is a Senior Consultant at IBIS who specializes in inclusive leadership and culture in organizations ranging from innovative start-ups to competitive universities…and everything in between.