Many organizations invest in diversity training without reaching desired results. In fact, when conducted in a vacuum of leadership support for diversity goals and related candid conversations, a number of articles have reported negative impacts and reactions to DEI programs and training.
Work to address issues that have plagued our country for hundreds of years are not advanced by “one and done” training. When not supported and facilitated over time, programs that call for colleagues to focus on such potentially volatile issues can do more harm than good.
Our approach to helping organizations and leaders create inclusive work environments is driven by five tenets:
- Developing genuine relationships has the biggest impact in changing workplace culture regarding racial differences
- Relationships are typically developed in the workplace through sustained collaboration on meaningful tasks
- To collaborate productively requires clear and candid communication across differences
- Relationships and collaboration will not provide a strong ROI if organizational structures and systems continue to stand as obstacles to progress
- Leaders’ direct and personal involvement is necessary to drive organizational change, though the benefits the change was designed to produce are not realized unless people throughout the organization change their behavior
Candid Conversations: Beyond Unconscious Bias Training
Remaining silent about an issue doesn’t make it go away. To address its impact and develop more inclusive organizations, leaders need to be able to talk about race. In our experience, those conversations quickly become awkward with many leaders and participants remaining silent or sharing only perfunctory comments. Skilled facilitation of substantive conversations, whether race is implicit or explicit, can advance stalled progress.
It is important to balance seemingly conflicting facts simultaneously. We are all the same, yet we are all individuals. For example, neuroscience has demonstrated that all humans have biases. The question becomes what do we want to do about that since human brains have now evolved to the extent that they are not entirely driven by their impulses but can make choices about their actions.
The conversation doesn’t end there, however. When combined with power, those biases carry greater weight, creating great responsibility to not only remain aware of them but consistently examine actions and judgments accordingly. To do that, we go beyond unconscious bias training to facilitate candid programs that provide fuller understanding of systemic forces and history, sharing perspectives on clear communication, and building genuine relationships across differences.
Collaboration Between C-Suite & DEI Offices
DEI officers stand at the intersection of processes and relationships among colleagues within an organization. We have seen the responsibility placed on their shoulders coupled with the limitations on their authority can prove frustrating and often isolating, and the combination can take a toll not only on productivity but on well-being.
Traditionally, DEI offices have not typically been integrated into the power centers of their organizations but rather “down the hall,” isolated from leadership and without the level of resources devoted to central business goals. More recently, and particularly since this spring, several corporations have announced changes in their organizational structure so that DEI reports directly to the CEO’s office.
Structurally increasing senior leaders’ direct involvement and accountability in creating an inclusive workplace presents an opportunity for real change as well as a real challenge. We help leaders and DEI professionals communicate and collaborate with one another to develop and implement strategies and tools to create an inclusive environment throughout their organizations.
Mentors Benefit From Coaching Too
As leadership coaches, highly-performing professionals of color in professional services firms, corporations, government, and associations have consistently comprised a large percentage of our clients. Throughout this work, in conversations with sponsors of these coaching engagements and organizational leaders, we have frequently encountered a lack of awareness at those levels of the impact of inclusive leadership.
Similarly, many leadership development and mentoring programs specifically designed for high-performing professionals of color being groomed for leadership in an organization include an offer of coaching for all participants. In this scenario, we have often seen the mentees actively participate in coaching while their executive mentors decline the offer, saying they already know how to be successful in their organizations. We believe this dynamic reflects what stands in the way of progress in achieving diversified leadership.
As a result, we strongly believe that incorporating leadership coaching specifically on inclusivity to support executives and managers at all levels offers huge potential for organizations to make much greater progress towards DEI goals. Coaching around racial differences ultimately allows for embodying an inclusive presence, deepening of self-knowledge, and broadening perspectives.