A Year of Learning: Be Bold, Go Deep, and Speak Up
In 2018, the IBIS team worked hard to create more equity, diversity, and inclusion, training more than 100,000 employees from organizations across the globe, assessing companies, universities and nonprofits against 400+ best practices, and adding 3 new and creative services to the IBIS platform.
As we reflect on this productive year, we can’t ignore the hard questions – what is the impact of our work? Are we helping “move the needle” and make lasting change? What can we do differently to go deeper and help people and companies leverage the power of equity, diversity and inclusion?
There are 5 key learnings from our DEI work that I want to share.
1. This is the time to show courage and be bold!
Amri Johnson, a D&I leader at a pharmaceutical company, took the stage at a recent conference and hit the nail on the head when he said, “So far, leaders have been managing risks, but it is time for them to TAKE risks!” He elaborated: “Unless leaders have skin in the game, things will not change.”
He couldn’t be more right. It is time to rethink the traditional ways we have been approaching equity, diversity and inclusion. We need innovative and bold solutions to gain more traction on outcomes. This year Americans watched as leaders from companies such as Starbucks, Nike and Merck took bold stances and creative action in response to perceived acts of bias and discrimination. This, we believe, is the new normal and defines tomorrow’s expectations. No longer can leaders comfortably remain silent in the face of discrimination – and neither can bystanders.
2. Move beyond Diversity and Inclusion, to focus on Equity
We need a focus on Equity to level the playing field. But not everyone understands what that word means. It is not the same as the concept of equal. Think of “equal” as the idea that everyone gets a new pair of shoes, and it is size 8! “Equity” fits when everyone gets a new pair of shoes…that fit. Think of equity as the recognition that different people require different support in order to succeed. Understand that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for everyone and different actions and support systems are needed to support different people.
3. Whether it’s ally, co-conspirator, or accomplice – be one!
Many still perceive issues of inclusion to be a zero-sum game. If one group wins, the other loses! But that’s not how it works. An equitable, inclusive and diverse society is better for everyone. As one small example of this, look at the 15% increase in profit margin that companies with diverse leadership have, compared to those with homogenous leadership. The outcome is unmistakably better. We can’t get there, though, without the help of people who are allies: those from dominant groups who are willing to call out inequity, think creatively to address challenges, and fight for inclusion.
Some call for a different word than ally, one that propels people ‘to have skin in the game’; co-conspirator, for example, or accomplice. We need to move beyond the “us vs. them” mentality to strategize ways to empower everyone. If you are in a dominant group, we need you to speak up against acts of discrimination, oppression, or bias against marginalized groups; it’s far from fair to put the work on those groups themselves.
4. Unconscious Bias training is not enough. We need to go deeper.
Unconscious Bias has been a hot topic for organizational training for the past several years. We’ve been delighted to deliver our well-received training on this topic and have heard from many people that it’s been eye-opening and helpful. But it only scratches the surface. We think the conversations need to be bigger to result in meaningful change and transformation. There is a huge need for organizations to go deeper into difficult conversations related to common “isms” such as racism and sexism. This level of engagement often requires participants to lean into discomfort and recognize the impact of power and privilege. We know it’s not easy. But it is necessary.
5. Take on systemic bias: rewire systems to rewire behaviors
Bias creeps in to systems, policies, and practices, and once that happens, the impact is limited when it comes to changing individual behavior. Unless and until organizations approach D&I work holistically and systemically, we will not see the needle move. Diversity, equity and inclusion must be integrated and embedded in every aspect of an organization. Every leader, manager and employee must to be held accountable for their behaviors and actions.
We’re eager to apply these learnings in 2019, and to collaborate and partner with each of you to make an even greater world in which marginalized voices are heard, everyone feels seen, and contributions that make a difference come from everyone.
Shilpa Pherwani, the principal of IBIS and a leading expert in diversity and inclusion, has been guiding global organizations for over 16 years on leveraging diversity as a business advantage. An organizational psychologist by training, she partners with organizations to effect sustainable organizational change by conducting cultural assessments, developing comprehensive strategic diversity action plans, and designing compelling and interactive classroom-based and online training.