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Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have never been more important. The pandemic made historical and structural biases more glaring than ever, and a rise in public scrutiny over social injustices has been driving the business world to take action.
Organizational DEI policies — the active steps to ensure an open and accepting workplace where people with different ethnicities, genders, abilities, cultures and personalities have representation, opportunity and support — have become critical to attracting and recruiting talent and staying innovative. But most companies today still have yet to get it right.
In reality, “getting it right” is an iterative process. No one has to get it right today; commit to “doing it better.” Adopting this attitude makes a big difference in spreading a company’s caring culture. It lets people let their guard down and show up authentically and honestly. The way to get DEI “right” is by realizing all the ways we still don’t have it right today and trying to do it better.
Related: Here’s How to Have the Most Powerful DEI Conversations
The work is never done
Spoiler alert — a leader’s job in terms of DEI is never done. When leaders conclude that they have managed to remove all visible and invisible barriers to give everyone the same access to opportunities to thrive, guess what? Another one reveals itself that needs to be addressed.
But we cannot just check boxes. Our best DEI efforts come from listening and learning from one another in the workplace. We can constantly develop new programming, resources and forums with team input. We need to identify barriers or concerns as they arise and address them to create an emotionally safe working environment for everyone in the hopes that it will improve over time.
CI&T is a multicultural organization, and the different geographical contexts generate different sets of intersectionality between cultures on different bases. When we developed an employee resource group to support the unique needs of parents with children in distance learning, those meetings drew out another concern. We found that several employees who had moved from Brazil to the U.S. not only didn’t understand our education system but also didn’t understand our benefits program. We weren’t explaining it in a way that they would know because not only is English not their first language but the whole “system” that we as natives inherently operate under in the U.S. was also foreign to them.
That employee resource group shifted to supporting our people relocating to North America. We assisted with some life skills, like finding a school for their children. We helped with resources available to parents if their child is neurodivergent — even setting up doctor’s appointments using a complex insurance portal for the first time. By staying open to input, we saw the emerging need and responded to the needs of our ex-pat employees, juggling their complex families’ cultural acclimation.
Related: Here’s How to Foster Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in a Remote-Work World
Always be agile
To get DEI right, be ready and willing to adapt. During the pandemic, when people started mobilizing for justice for George Floyd, we knew we needed to do something. In an ordinary world, we would have come together as an organization in person to support one another. But the pandemic made everything more complicated.
So for a few weeks, we tried opening up a space at the end of our Friday staff meetings for people to be together, talk and connect. I was the facilitator, and things were going great — until they weren’t. A conversation got uncomfortable between two people who walk in very different shoes. The safe space I thought I was offering to people was suddenly unsafe. I immediately felt out of my wheelhouse. I reached out to each of them over the weekend and not only resolved the conflict, but each of them grew out of it as they developed more empathy for each other’s journey. I realized I was in over my head regarding the actual issue.
We didn’t know what we didn’t know about DEI, but we knew enough to realize we needed more experts and expertise or were going to get it wrong. So, we brought in a consultant and hosted many workshops, starting with the Board. We held space after each one to glean feedback for ways to improve. And each time, we got it a little bit more right because we were not afraid to ask for feedback to learn so we could improve.
Related: How to Restructure Your Organization with DEI at the Forefront
Go above and beyond
Even when we think we’re moving the needle, getting DEI right means always moving it further until true equity is achieved. There are many iterations of DEI, many different marginalized groups and many areas of intersectionality. Women, trans women, Black/Brown trans women, Black trans women who are single mothers, etc. — those different identities need different levels of support. The limitless ways diverse needs can intersect and change is why we always need to be looking to provide better help and support above and beyond what the company is already doing and admit when we get it wrong.
DEI is an iterative improvement process, so make a “what-can-we-do-better” policy the norm. At our company, we work toward a culture where people can peel back our different layers of diversity, never afraid to push further to provide the best support to everyone. We are not afraid to be vulnerable, admit what we don’t know and try our best to improve.
After all, we’re all humans living in different realities, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, each trying to show up in the world. Getting everyone from those different worlds equitable access to resources and opportunities requires constant evaluation and adaptation as we continue to peel back layers and find new ways to improve. When leaders build a culture of caring that aligns the entire company around DEI as something they can always do better, DEI is being done right.
Related: How DEI and Sustainability Can Grow Your Triple Bottom Line