EDI Initiatives: Uncomfortable discussions are a must

For an organization to fully achieve Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), it means embracing something we’ve traditionally been taught to avoid at all costs: discomfort. The corporate sphere has taught us to value conformity, not rocking the boat, and to favour polite, non-confrontational, and conventional behaviour. While this behaviour makes sense given the professionalism the corporate world calls for, it has had the side-effect of allowing systemic discrimination to become entrenched, unquestioned, and apparent in all aspects of our daily lives. While questioning patterns of discrimination, racism, and stereotyping behaviours may feel seriously uncomfortable, it is important to remember the adage, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”

As always, an important consideration is the behaviour of leaders. EDI is transformational and must start at the top—by the leaders, or potential leaders, of a company, organization, or institution. The leaders must take charge in guiding their teams through potential discomfort, friction, and difficult conversations. Often, EDI is against habitual behaviours that have been permissible in the workplace for decades, if not generations. These assumptions, stereotypes, and micro-aggressions can be daunting to confront, especially for members of diversity groups. Leaders must ensure that they are providing adequate support, feedback, and that the members of these groups are not the only ones leading the charge.

Having a culture where members of equity seeking groups aren’t afraid to speak up and hold others accountable is important. Leaders help others to navigate these conversations, allowing for these to become learning opportunities, and ensuring that the behaviour is not repeated. You must also have established processes that are transparent and respect any requests of anonymity by victims of harassment or discrimination. If members of equity seeking groups do not feel comfortable reporting discrimination or being candid with colleagues about their transgressions, it deeply impacts the culture of inclusion within the organization.

Here’s a recap last year’s EDI Forum: The EDI Imperative!

In this process, it’s important to reconsider a few things. For one, discomfort is a positive sign—it means that individuals are learning, adapting, and changing their perspective on things. Fear is a natural outcome of this and mistakes and curiosity should be encouraged in safe, responsible manner. Sharing, communication, and honesty are vital in this process: building EDI in a company is like building a muscle, and practice with transparent communication makes that muscle stronger.

Viewing your workplace through the EDI lens is a top-to-bottom project that should affect all aspects of work, and therefore, should involve accountability in all aspects of a company. Metrics are important to utilize in this shift, as they help prevent “band-aid” solutions that may appear to be working on the surface level, but either fail to affect deep change, or allow employees to revert to old habits. Metrics allow for consistent, long-term evaluation: setting goals, prioritizing, assigning accountability, and identifying fluctuating risk areas can all be tracked. More than anything, for such a fraught, uncomfortable subject, metrics allow us to remove the emotion from EDI initiatives and focus on data.

One set of metrics will not work for all companies. To begin, consider your baseline and understand where the diversity gaps are in your organization. Are you looking to attract women? Black, Indigenous or other people of colours (BIPOC)? Or LGBTQ2+ peoples? Understanding that humans rarely fit into neat little boxes and these diversity dimensions often intersect is also imperative. You will have challenges to collecting some of this data, as the protocols and best practices are constantly changing, but doing so through an ethical and transparent will enable you to implement more effective practices, policies, and programs. 

Join us to discuss this and other important topics at our Diversity and Inclusion Forum The #EDIAdvantage, taking place on November 26 & 27, 2020. For more information please visit www.ospeedi.ca

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