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Congratulations, executive leadership has greenlit your plan for a Diversity and Inclusion Council (or task force, or group)! The company has decided that diversity and inclusion are important elements for company sustainability and growth. However, now that you’ve got the go-ahead, you may be unsure how best to proceed, even though you have some basic plans and ideas. We’ve seen some common traps that can create more harm than good when starting off in this work. Here are some pitfalls to watch out for as you grow this important initiative, so that you can set a solid foundation in place:
- Appointing people to participate. Ideally you will want to have people volunteer to be a part of your Council. What you definitely don’t want to happen is appointing marginalized people to participate. It’s not their job to do this work: it should be open to anyone who cares deeply about the work and making a difference at the company. Note: it can be especially effective if you have Council members who sit at a senior level, as those individuals have the power and pull to ensure that changes happen and are taken seriously. However, those people may represent a more homogenous grouping of identities, which leads us to our next point.
- Prioritizing marketing over education. Executives are bought in and you may have the budget set aside for your work, but what you choose to spend your dollars on can be a fraught decision. Prioritizing marketing over education may be fun, but may not be the best solution for the council or your employees. Depending on where the council and the company are in terms of overall awareness and understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion, your budget may be better spent on getting the council on the same page with understanding the foundations of the work, before you spend money on something flashy. This education work can be done through shared reading of relevant books and/or articles, conference attendance, or participating in a training. Once the foundations are laid for the entire council, then it makes sense to start thinking about creating larger community events that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and create marketing material that spreads the word. Your council will be better able to understand what the underlying considerations are around this type of work and make better informed decisions.
- Implementing policies and changes without asking the people who will be affected if that’s what they want or need. While you may have achieved consensus within the group, making suggestions or directly implementing policies that can affect others beyond the group may cause more harm than good. Take the time to survey the company to actually ask not only how they feel about your proposed changes, but also how they are feeling, what they want, and what they need. The answers might surprise you!
- Not tying participation to, and time spent, on performance reviews and bonuses. The people who participate in the Council are dedicating their time to making your company a better place to work and they should be rewarded for it. If you don’t make the work meaningful from a performance and financial standpoint, it won’t be taken seriously.
- Not creating structure and a strategy. It’s easy to put quarterly meetings on the calendar and run one or two events a year, but much harder to put together a real strategy to affect change. Decide as a group what your short and long-term goal (or goals) will be, and clearly define how you expect to achieve them. By doing this, not only will you set yourself up for success, but you’ll also likely be able to more effectively advocate for budget. One final point– once you come up with a strategy, share it! Transparency and communication around this work can go a long way in helping to build a culture of trust within corporations.
- Thinking that diversity just refers to race, gender, or sexuality. The beauty of a diversity and inclusion council is that you have the opportunity to be broad in your definition of diversity. Think about age, disability, religious background, class, nationality, and more. By bringing in and working to support a variety of perspectives you have the opportunity to create a truly diverse experience that can better inform the Council and therefore, the company.
- Being just a shiny object for the marketing team or senior management to tout. Diversity and inclusion are becoming increasingly important to prospective employees and companies know this. While it’s excellent news that these topics aren’t being ignored, it’s important to do whatever you can to keep those that hold the bullhorn to the outside world honest and accountable. Prove that you can make positive change and give them something to really promote.
- Thinking that diversity is a checkbox that can be solved simply by creating a Council, or by conducting a single training. The work of a Council is ongoing and the work is always a process. Understanding that at the outset can help with feelings of discouragement when the needle seems to move more slowly than you would like. Creating a Council is an important step, but it’s not the final step– just as training can be extremely valuable, but once you conduct a training, your work is not over.
- Not working with other teams or ERGs. As part of a Council, you have the opportunity to align yourself with ERGs or affinity groups at your company that may have laid some important groundwork in your efforts. Partner with them, let them shine, and definitely don’t ignore them. Consider co-hosting events and meeting together regularly to strengthen each other’s purpose. Work with Human Resources/People Operations to see if they’d be open to creating a metrics dashboard that captures inclusion survey data and anonymous demographic data if the company is large enough. If you can do this, you may be better equipped to track real progress. Source members of sub-council task forces from your ERGs– this will help you reach a broader cross-section of the company and loop in the most passionate people.
- Not being accountable. As much as you should keep senior leadership accountable, as a group you also need to hold yourself accountable. If you committed to the work and you care about it, if the company is giving you what you need to do to be successful, then spend the time to do the work and make it transparent. Share your plans, your successes, and your failures. Be okay with failure, it’s a part of the work. Not everything will work all of the time. Don’t give up!
- Giving up when it gets hard or you get busy. It’s human nature for people to be excited at the beginning of a new project and get tired when the work gets hard or other work takes greater priority. If others around you are fading, find ways to re-engage. Set up a small event to get everyone together to re-energize the group. Talk to the people who control the budget about increasing the budget to create a special event. Talk with other groups to see if you can partner up.
- Not recognizing when you need to step away. There may be a time when you have to step away. The worst thing you can do is disappear/get disengaged and not talk about it. If you’re truly too busy for the work or have lost your passion, step away, but talk about it with the group. There may be other ways for you to stay involved or give room for others to get involved.
If any of these resonate with you, know that you are not alone and that’s the best part of having a Council. Use this group to create an inclusive culture at your company, but also use this time to improve your own way of being in the world. A Council is an amazing opportunity for growth on many levels.
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