What your DEI strategy is missing: the hard part

Achieving our much-needed Diversity and Equity goals require that Inclusion is truly structural

Inclusion is the most important part of DEI: without inclusion, all your work hiring into diversity and assuring equitable compensation will be noble gestures whose impact is never realized. All three are important, for sure, but making your organization more inclusive is the hard part…Inclusion has to happen all day, every day, and requires significant systemic change to how your organization currently operates.

Let’s Fix the DEI Terminology

You can say DEI stands for whatever you want — certainly the definitions out there are all over the place. I prefer a clean and simple structure, because then we can make concrete actions and decisions from there:

  • Equity is about providing fairness in compensation, rewards and resources; essentially treating them like they are the team. Equity is assessed at hiring point, but also on an ongoing basis, and in that way is influenced by Inclusion.
  • Inclusion is about letting and even making them play; getting people suited-up and on to the field, game-time. Often “diversity of thought” is put under diversity, but as I’ll illustrate in a moment, inclusion is the true driver of new and different perspectives that we associate with that idea.

The First Force: In-Group-Out-Group Bias

In-Group-Out-Group bias is something that we all have and it is largely innate and automatic: we are good at categorizing, making distinctions and assigning meaning and value…regardless of whether we are right or wrong in those matters. People whom you perceive to be favorably similar to you are your de facto In-Group…and you consider them (and yourself) superior to those who are not in that group, the Out-Group.

Our Persistent Under-estimation Bias

Here’s the subtle idea inside the Bill story: we’re even worse at judging how great a candidate won’t be. We underestimate people way worse than over-estimate them. Your lower expectation of the person translates into lower performance on their part, and once that happens, you will feel validated in your judgement. But your judgement was wrong, and you will never see that.

Equity: Paying Less is Forever

In the hiring process, the decision on compensation will have all these same bias problems of course. One of the biggest mistakes — and this is somewhat counter-intuitive — is to pay people as little as possible upon hire, to negotiate them down on their compensation. I can hear some of you saying, “…okay, but shouldn’t some people get paid more, after all, if they are more talented, and others less, because they are not as in-demand?” To which I would reply, “Um, yeah, but you’re probably a horrible judge of them…and re-read that section above.”

Equity: Meritocracies are not fair

When I say meritocracy, I mean any organization that promotes the best (most meritorious) specialists into management. This often impacts compensation inequity because of the mistaken idea that managers should get paid more then deep specialists. It is in the nature of a meritocracy to make quite clear the in-group (managers), and more important, the out-group (everyone else).

Inclusion: The keystone to DEI

Diversity gets you a fair mix of people onto the team. Equity requires that you structure and assess compensation and rewards methodically and quantitatively, avoiding appraisal biases. But these events happen rarely, at most a few times during the year. Inclusion is how you make diversity and equity work.

Inclusion: Platitudes Don’t Work

Hopefully now, you have a better understanding of my opening paragraphs: I complained about people saying things but not defining the hard stuff, the specific changes in behaviors that will create different outcomes. Here’s a simplified example from my keynote presentations at the 4A’s Talent 2030 conference last year (slightly modified but you can see the original here.

  • Company B’ slogan: “Take turns and don’t be a jerk”

Empowerment Requires Some Serious Attitude

Building a culture of empowerment and inclusion is a matter of re-shaping hundreds of behaviors through several key process moments, like the choosing of squad members example above. The behaviors are necessarily simple, like how to take turns, mentor, and, well, not be a jerk. It also requires re-engineering of how to work more side-by-side than over-and-under — which is a more structural change.

Transformation Leader, Researcher, Author, CEO

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