The infusion of fresh and significant resources by companies to create new community-focused diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives is one of the silver linings during this unsettling time. However, architecting initiatives that help advance DEI goals and create opportunities for under-represented people and communities is not new for many companies. In fact, this has been a focus for corporate social impact professionals for decades. Now is a perfect time to take current initiatives to new levels to increase reach and impact.
Through my corporate consulting, teaching, and research, I am seeing lots of positive energy focused on questions such as “How can we align our social impact and community investment efforts with our DEI strategies?” “How do our social impact programs support underserved communities, reach and support people of color, and address opportunity gaps?” “Where can social impact and community relations leaders add the most value to DEI strategy development?” “Where can we demonstrate our commitment to address racism?”
Executives are facing intense pressure to make quick decisions and take action. While, it is always great to see big dollars going to important organizations such as the NAACP, UNCF, and the National Urban League; beautifully written letters from CEOs sharing their personal corporate perspectives; and the delivery of more diversity trainings, if not connected and continuous these efforts can come across as “check the box” proof points, rather than part of a larger strategy aimed at driving tangible change.
We need to acknowledge that developing an authentic, long-term, and integrated DEI and social impact strategy must be an ongoing priority and woven throughout the business. This takes time. And, it requires cross-functional collaboration, issue expert engagement, intentional processes, active listening, empathy, and lots of patience. Leaders need to take genuine approaches that align a range of internal and external DEI-related practices.
Here are some ways to get started:
Assess Your Current Community Efforts for DEI Alignment
Start by identifying and analyzing how your company already invests in community partnerships and programs that support diverse populations including people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ, and English language learners, among others. Dive deeper to better understand the needs of your beneficiaries and any pertinent data. Determine if your company is rallying behind equitable and inclusive approaches that help people advance – whether it be within education, health, workforce development or other social issues. Through this analysis, you will likely discover programs, partnerships, and other assets that can be further aligned with your DEI strategy. However, if you conclude that your company’s DEI practices and goals are not relevant to the existing community investments you are making, then I recommend it is time to consider re-engineering and/or developing additional social impact programs.
Engage Your Employee Resource Groups
Your employees have a lot to offer to inform your DEI and social impact efforts. All too often we overlook Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) who can bring personal and professional insights to help evolve your strategies. These groups usually are already actively engaged in community activities, volunteerism and advocacy associated with DEI. No matter the social issue or beneficiary you focus on, invite diverse ERGs to help with research and share ideas. It is important to not make assumptions about which ERG can be the most helpful—embrace a collective group of employees considering various approaches such as 1-1 dialogue, focus groups, and surveys.
Remain Open-Minded and Curious
DEI includes a complex and emotional set of topics. Being open to learning and having genuine dialogue requires each of us to let down our guard and often be less comfortable. Creating safe environments to have conversations about DEI issues with employees, community partners, and customers is extremely important. We frequently apply Design Thinking methodologies and empathy building processes into our work to help people come together and better understand one another. My clients who stay curious, continuously listen, and seek to build their knowledge of areas that are less known to them are the ones who become the most successful DEI leaders.
Wherever your strategy lands, be sure to test, learn and scale, versus rushing to do something too big, too fast. You may need to invest in some short-term moves, but remember the long-term commitments are what will deliver social change. It’s time to further embrace the power of intentional DEI strategy woven into social impact work.
Onward with positivity!