- We’re amid a movement against diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts — but the work, discourse, and push back around social justice is nothing new to America.
- Big policy changes like the strike down of affirmative action have big implications. It’s important for organizations to understand that decisions like this greatly impact their industry, business, their people, and generations of lives.
- Leaders should stand firm in conviction around the values of your organization and ensure that they are understood as an integral part of the organization’s ethos and strategy. An objective refocus back to beliefs that drive behaviors and ways of working within the company is needed to reaffirm commitment to change.
We’re amid a movement against what we may commonly recognize as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts — but the work, discourse, and push back around social justice is nothing new to America. We’re experiencing a high-profile tug of war, if you will, which at its core is between holding tightly to remnants of tradition that have benefited some or progressing into a future that is just and fair for all.
The signs of a swift backslide of DEI are mounting. From book bans, to attacks on LGBTQ+ Americans, to last week’s Supreme Court ruling eliminating affirmative action on college campuses across the country (just to name a few), the polarity of policies and attitudes are growing wider.
And history has this bad habit of repeating itself. For those of us who have been working in the workplace activism, culture, and leadership space for any substantial amount of time — before it was cool or turned into a campaign — know that we’ve been here before.
At the risk of oversimplifying, here’s how it goes:
- We’ve recognized an injustice that has been long-standing but that manifests itself in the modern world or workplace in a way that shakes us collectively. The murder of George Floyd (along with some compounded factors like the COVID-19 pandemic) was that modern movement that jerked the U.S. into a collective reality check that was hard to ignore.
- People react without authenticity, and workplaces slap together communications and anti-racism statements without investigating their value systems. Organizations hire Chief Diversity and Social Impact Officers without commitment to change.
- Systems stay the same, and although organizations begin to acknowledge and institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training, programming, and priorities, there is little done to move the needle on creating true, systemic change and justice. For workplaces, limited movement on reducing homogeneous cultures and sustainably correcting exclusion in the workplace is “mended” with performative band aids.
- People lose the storyline, cracks form. People start to realize (both supporters and non-supporters) that flashy campaigns and DEI training don’t equate to behavior, commitment and policy change that is needed to actually create change.
- DEI fails, privilege prevails, and silent DEI nay-sayers see an in. Fast forward to today. We’re witnessing an uprising of those who preferred the long-standing attitudes and behaviors that were historically prominent. Having seen the strong reaction to the more recent injustices, these parties are taking steps to establish policies and laws that attempt to prevent any future progress toward DEI objectives — and to tear down that which was previously made.
What Social Justice Rebounds Mean for Organizations
I‘ve seen DEI initiatives change workplaces, and big policy changes like the strike down of affirmative action have big implications. It’s important for organizations to understand first and foremost that decisions like this greatly impact their industry, business, their people, and generations of lives. This also doesn’t mean organizations cannot stay the course to living and integrating their values of DEI.
Steps Companies Should Take Now: Get Real With Your Values
- Re-ground in what we’re actually doing here. The truth is, we love to package values implementation work. Whether we’re trying to create a more inclusive culture, or a culture of DEI, or an innovative culture, or a customer-centric culture — this all goes back to what people experience every day (above and below the surface), how decisions are made, and behaviors are tolerated, celebrated, or rewarded across the organization. You can package that into whatever campaign you’d like, but what we’re talking about is aligning, developing, implementing, and reinforcing a values-system within the organization.
- Be crystal clear, transparent, and truthful about what your value-system is. I’m not going to splice words on this one. If your organization doesn’t actively stand and believe that social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion are important for business, people, and humanity. If your leaders aren’t doing the work themselves to validate and celebrate different identities and lived experiences other than their own. If your organization and leaders value profits over people. Then ensure your value-system matches the behavior and beliefs within your organization. That may mean ditching your anti-racism statement you prepared three years ago and the DEI values on your website. This is the time to get real.
- Stand firm in conviction around the values of the organization and ensure that they are understood, not as a nice to have, option, or “side dish” to tolerate, but rather an integral part of the organization’s ethos and strategy. Given the backlash around DEI, this is also a good time for some conscious communications across the organization that this conviction is still strong.
Values Around DEI Will Persist in the Future of Work
I want to end this piece with a bit of hope, and hopefully words that will spark some action and clarity for those of us who are actively committed and clear about our values and how we help organizations and leaders become better versions of themselves.
Despite the social justice rebound we’re experiencing around DEI, the future of work is human. Point blank. The train has left the station and employees are demanding for more action in social, environmental, and humanity areas. And they are expecting companies to respond.
In a recent global 2022 Gen Z and millennial survey by Deloitte, nearly two in five Zoomers and millennials say they have turned down a job or work because it did not align with their values. Those who are satisfied with their employers’ stance and contribution on issues around social justice, environmental impact, and their efforts to create a diverse and inclusive culture were more likely to want to stay with their employer longer than five years.
In Closing: This is Not the Time to Skimp Out on DEI and Culture Work
Although we are experiencing some very real barriers, it’s important to pay attention to this season, re-focus on what impact we’re looking to make, and double-down with conviction. This is not that time to skimp out on DEI and culture work.
For companies, flowery language without action won’t cut it anymore. Rather, an objective refocus back to beliefs that drive behaviors and ways of working within the company is needed to reaffirm commitment to change. And if your company is not committed to change, this needs to be made clear too. This might mean finding a partner outside of your organization to help you pin down and align on your value system and to what extent it is experienced with your customers, leaders, and employees. Let’s get to it!
Now, for a personal take:
As someone who has worked at the intersection of social impact, social justice, and the world of work for a decade — I’m exhausted, and my colleagues are, too. There are many people betting on us to fail, which is why it’s so important, now more than ever, that we get this work right. My world feels like a constant re-calibration within the context of major setbacks and not enough wins to enable our work. Yet, we continue to do the tough work, have the tough conversations, and help organizations who are committed and feel responsible to do the same.