Everyone is “aware” - we all “know.” Over the last several years, society has been a part of a shared experience of becoming more “aware” - of racism, discrimination, misogyny and sexism, homophobia and transphobia, classism - the gamut of destructive ideologies. And as well-intended and necessary as awareness is, it’s been used so much, or overly prioritized with nothing supporting it, that it’s almost exhausted its meaning.
Cultural awareness is a fantastic first start…in 1995. We are in 2022, a time when basic understanding is not a special feat, and certainly not optional. We are constantly being fed with information that should be making us curious, incentivizing action. In contemporary workplaces, the expectation is even higher. Today’s workforce is demanding a new level of activism from their employers. They expect champions. Being a champion is exactly that, shifting from awareness and even a deep sense of care to DOING SOMETHING. Champions do not stand idly by, avoiding controversial engagement for the sake of being polite or maintaining “civility.” Civility, in fact, does not have to be lost to actively pursue justice. Think about this for yourself, even in a world that is intensely polarized you can certainly imagine any number of people who have been champions in ways that call attention to a need or an injustice, inspire action in others, and make progress towards a higher good. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Maya Angelou. Desmond Tutu. Sidney Poitier. Martin Luther King, Jr.
What Does It Mean to Be a DEI Champion at Work?
By now, it’s safe to assume that most organization leaders are keenly aware of the lack of diversity in the workplace. There have been countless articles detailing the stats and explaining the disparities in an attempt to understand our predicament while exploring how to resolve it. To find the solution, we must examine where it all begins - the hiring process. But hiring from a diverse candidate pool and creating an inclusive environment isn’t something we do to be “trendy” or “PC,” organizations lose money and valuable growth opportunities by ignoring the topic. To move in the right direction, we must transition from merely being aware of the problem to becoming a champion for diversity and inclusion.
These are the critical components to becoming a champion in the hiring process.
What can leaders do?
Managers are vital, so the first, and possibly most important, factor in management success is ensuring that the managers are empowered. The greatest qualities in the world account for nothing if the managers aren’t trusted to make decisions and lead the team. Next, managers must prioritize these four concepts:
Respect. Be an example of respect for diversity and inclusion in your workplace. You set the tone that others follow and draw a line on what’s acceptable and what’s not. Workplace culture begins with behavior, so respect is critical.
Education. Always invest in educating yourself, your team, and ensure educational moments and opportunities are always present and available. The world isn’t just changing; it’s becoming better, so to continue our progress, we must continue to learn about people and the variety of their experiences.
Create a system. Creating a data-driven system that follows metrics eliminates ambiguity, promotes transparency, and includes steps and milestones needed to ensure success.
Accountability. This is of utmost importance. Initiatives, morale, workplace dynamics, and the organizations themselves all risk completely unraveling if leaders aren’t held accountable. Hiding from responsibility transforms a mild-mannered office into a den of distrust and chaos.
Awareness is the great initial idea, but it lives and dies as the idea. Being a champion means staying to make sure it happens. Whatever that “it” may be. It’s the first step, but it has to be more than the social justice concept du jour and something that just sounds good. Awareness of the monstrous issues that we battle in our society means we have to move; there must be action.
In addition to all of the ways in which we–all of us–continue to grow related to DEI, make sure to continue prioritizing and demonstrating how your organization can and should take its commitment to new heights. Enough talk, we need champions.
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