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3 guidelines for kicking off or evaluating your diversity and inclusion initiative

Diverse people artwork

My prediction for D&I progress in the next five years: We have two options — we can stay stuck or we can do it differently.

We can face the current D&I reality as much and as long as we choose to, stare at the numbers, wonder why the needle isn’t moving fast enough, be frustrated or even give up. Or we can choose to take a deep breath and make a decision to create the D&I reality we want.

How? Probably not by continuing to do what we have been doing, or at least not solely. As Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” D&I approaches must adapt to the changing requirements of modern times and the expectations of younger generations, and that’s what’s not happening enough right now.

A lack of clear results is evidence that it’s time to make a bolder move, to fix the flaws in systems and workplace cultures, as well as the shortcomings of D&I approaches.

More programs alone do not guarantee success. Without buy-in at all levels, combined with effective content, they are a waste of precious budget dollars. Successful D&I initiatives often require a change in organizational culture, and that’s something not all organizations are willing to tackle.

It makes a lot of sense that organizations with the most up-to-date approach will win in the medium and long term, as they will be better aligned with both talent and client or consumer markets. In this context, it’s worth reminding ourselves that women constitute more than half of the population.

The question is: Do you want to be one of these organizations? If so, here are some ways to start the process.

1. Taking stock: What’s working and what isn’t?

If your current strategy or programs aren’t leading to the desired results, don’t just add another piece to the puzzle. Look at the overall image and how the pieces fit together, then throw out the pieces that don’t perform or that aren’t aligned with your vision of a more inclusive workplace and a more diverse leadership team. There may be pieces that are disconnected from the overall strategy and aren’t effective on their own. Also, some of your programs may just need more allies or stronger advocacy.

The first step could be an in-depth pulse check with a state-of-the-art, customizable AI platform that delivers real-time results, like Entromy. This business change management tool not only provides you with all the critical data, it automatically generates all the graphs that allow you to make your “it’s time for real transformation” case with your leadership team.

Once you have a better idea of what’s really going on with your staff, take a close look at what’s not working among all the things you’ve put into place — or what’s no longer working. For example, most bias training programs have proven to be useless or to even backfire. Understandable — no one wants to be accused of having biases without even clearly understanding where they are coming from. Also, a lot of women’s programs focus on “fixing” women to adapt to male-created environments; for instance, most “executive presence” approaches are based on masculine presence expectations. This clearly misses the mark as it doesn’t aim at more inclusiveness but rather at more “my way or the highway-ness.”

Once you have gained clarity of what’s working and what’s not, get rid of ineffective programs and look for something that’s worth spending your budget on.

2. Open your boxes or throw them out altogether

Millennials and younger generations don’t like to be put in boxes, and I know many people of my generation who aren’t exactly fond of it either. This isn’t only about intersectionality and about whether we fit into one category or into several (which most of us would anyway). People don’t want to be a category. People want to be people.

Employment resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups have had the purpose of giving women and minorities a voice. Although times have changed and younger generations with different ideas are joining our organizations, in some places there’s still a strong need to guarantee that minorities and women are heard. But maybe it’s time to shake it up a little — to make your ERGs more dynamic. I certainly have some ideas about how; admittedly, this takes some work.

If your organizational culture is D&I-mature enough, maybe you're ready to throw out the boxes altogether and provide other ways for your employees to connect. What about creating purposeful masterminds that involve all levels and individuals from all current categories? This is just one of many possible approaches.

3. Build trust and an inclusive organizational culture

Trust is the foundation of increased productivity, creativity and innovation. When people trust that they are respected, that it’s okay to make mistakes, that their suggestions are welcome, they are more engaged and they contribute more creative ideas. Logical.

Trust is also the foundation for more inclusiveness. In fact, it’s an essential premise for more productivity and innovation. But how can we build more trust, especially in a culture where traditional hierarchies prevail? How can we break out of the mold of rigid communication patterns, encourage all team members to bring their best selves to the workplace, to be fully engaged, to speak up and voice their most unheard-of ideas — create a culture where all can thrive?

One powerful tool to build trust, promote greater inclusiveness and ultimately more effective co-creation is Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ®) coaching. It helps team leaders to navigate successfully through conversations, increase the trust level within and among their teams and, when applied broadly, upgrade to a more inclusive overall culture. And there are other valuable benefits: C-IQ® allows leaders and members of teams to become better negotiators, and higher trust levels help uncover hidden talents and untapped potential.

These are three of many ways to make more substantial progress in the D&I arena. Are you ready to step it up?

If your answer is “yes,”  then it’s time to change your focus: Don’t focus so much on what is, focus on what you want to achieve. Because what we focus on, we take action on; and what we focus and take action on, expands.

As founder and CEO of Transform Your Performance, Regina Huber is a leadership coach and consultant for inclusive diversity. She is the author of Speak Up, Stand Out and Shine – Speak Powerfully in Any Situation.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.