When we think about equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), particularly as we have known it over the last two years, we can see clearly that many initiatives and investments have been a reaction resulting largely from public outcry against injustices.
The murder of George Floyd in 2020, and Sarah Everard in 2021, in addition to the disproportionate impact of Covid deaths by race, age, disability, and social status in many ways forced the hands of organisations that previously had not been ‘awake’ to the issues facing their workforce, their customers and the wider communities in which they were based.
"So, if EDI’s recent rebirth has been due to increased scrutiny on organisations, how do we create an environment where people are not afraid to say or do the wrong thing when we see increased diversity in the workplace?"
In life, we are regularly told to ‘face our fears’ if we want to overcome obstacles and achieve new heights of success. The same applies when trying to make improvements in EDI.
Some common fears from leaders and managers in this area include:
1. Doing or saying the wrong thing
2. Not having a personal connection to the issues
3. Not knowing where to start
4. Lack of knowledge about EDI issues or solutions
5. Personal challenge, or even losing their job (31% of UK employees fear they will lose their job if their organisation becomes more diverse and inclusive, according to research by Dynata)
6. Feeling uncomfortable
If you feel like this, or know leaders that do, it’s important to know, it’s common. The first step is to name and face our fears.
The good news is that there are strategies to overcome these fears and to move to a situation where we can all feel positive (and even excited!) about the huge potential to make visible changes in the experiences that historically marginalised staff and customers have, and to attract and retain new talent and energy in line with your values.
Step 1: Seek to understand
If you, or people in your team are feeling uneasy with the direction of travel of your EDI work, it is important to go back to basics and try to understand what issues are facing people within your organisation.
Use your recent staff survey results, meet with your staff networks, and ask the question;
“What are the challenges underrepresented members or our workforce are facing right now?”
This may involve speaking to members of communities you don’t have regular conversations with, but now you have acknowledged that, you can make the change.
Make efforts to ask people how they prefer to be referred to if you are unsure what terminology to use (or better yet read the staff network groups terms of reference beforehand for added insights) and be honest about any concerns or lack of comfort, to build trusting relationships.
Commit to have regular conversations to improve your understanding of EDI, and track improvements of the strategies your organisation is implementing.
Step 2: Speak to leaders
Things often feel less scary if you are not alone. Moreover, creating real change takes many hearts and hands. It is important that you take others with you and agree how others will contribute.
Speak to your leaders and managers about EDI and ask them questions like:
“Which voices are excluded from our decision making currently?"
“What are we collectively doing to tackle the challenges our staff or customers from different backgrounds are facing?"
“How can we amplify the voices and experiences of people who we want to attract and retain in our organisation?"
We can’t face our fears or discomfort if we are unwilling to talk about the core issues that concern us.
If you are uncomfortable leading this discussion, bring in an EDI practitioner and members of your staff networks to set the scene, and commit to taking actions (big or small) and having follow up meetings to build a momentum and buzz around the opportunities that arise from your discussions with your leadership team.
Step 3: Just do it!
Now you have done some groundwork, you have challenged yourself to understand the issues, you have articulated the issues within your leadership and management team. You have some ideas to take forward to benefit your staff based on their experiences.
So what next?
You may feel overwhelmed all over again. You may feel excited about the changes you can make in your company, or maybe a mixture of the two.
Be prepared that you might get a second wave of fear as you try to figure out where to start to make sure that you honour the experiences that staff have shared with you, or the expectations of your leaders.
"An important thing to realise is that everyone starts somewhere".
Whether you decide to start with training to increase confidence of your leaders, or a positive action campaign to develop the careers of currently underrepresented groups, the important thing is to take an initial step.
For initiatives to be successful, they cannot take place on the margins, and must be tied into your values, so developing a strategy and transparent action plan for how you intend to improve EDI is important too and will help you face any residual fears about how you are collectively taking this on, and making a difference.