Blue Beyond Consulting

Creating diverse, inclusive and equitable organizations is our best hope for rebuilding a healthy democracy

by Cheryl Fields Tyler — Founder and CEO of Blue Beyond Consulting

I applaud President Biden for taking swift action to advance racial equity, revoking his predecessor’s diversity training ban within hours of being sworn into office and signing more executive orders Jan. 26 to dismantle housing discrimination policies, end the federal use of private prisons, reestablish tribal sovereignty, and combat xenophobia directed toward Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

In signing these executive orders in his first week of office — in addition to proposing what will be the most diverse cabinet ever if confirmed —  the president signaled that DEI and racial justice will be top priorities. As he wrote in his order to advance racial equity, which included rescinding the diversity training ban, executive departments and agencies  “must recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.”

These inequities have been more than 400 years in the making. But as CNN’s Don Lemon said, there are two deadly viruses infecting Americans — Covid-19 and Racism-20. Both have given new urgency to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across organizations. At the same time, a recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity worryingly found that over one in four companies had put some or all of their DEI initiatives on hold due to the pandemic.

At this moment, with the country’s attention rightly focused on racial justice, business leaders have a unique opportunity and, I would argue, a moral imperative to make a real impact. First, for their teams––embracing differences and ensuring that all team members are valued for their skills, talents, and contributions. Second, for their organizations––promoting and advocating for efforts that break down barriers, and building equity for all. Finally and most importantly, for society as a whole. Creating diverse, inclusive and equitable organizations — grounded in common moral values, norms, and basis of fact — is not just good for business and people. It’s one of our best hopes for rebuilding a healthy, shared, democratic culture as Americans.

More than 150 business groups — including many nonprofits and regional chambers of commerce — wrote a letter opposing former President Trump’s executive order and many Fortune 1000 companies in the U.S. have put DEI at the top of their agenda. It’s heartening to see that a growing number of firms realize that we are immeasurably enriched by diversity, and are focusing efforts to increase representation, strengthen inclusion, and build cultures of belonging.

But that is not enough. What are we doing as business leaders — especially as white business leaders — to use our power and privilege to build a deeper understanding of racism and fight for racial justice in an active and sustained way?

It’s critical that we re-double efforts to build organizations that combat biases and discrimination, and help all people feel safe, included and like they belong. This work is not only essential for creating more cohesive and motivated teams but it’s also at the root of addressing these systemic inequities.

Time is of the essence. Here are some things we can and should do — now:

  • Listen and Learn: Establish safe spaces for employees and invite them to share — if they are comfortable doing so — their backgrounds, identities and lived experiences and how they have shaped their workplace perspectives. Also, do your homework by seeking out different voices and viewpoints on diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Speak up: Fear of saying the wrong thing can be intimidating. But silence is not neutral, and even well-intended silence can have negative consequences. Make sure your team knows you are committed to taking meaningful steps to move yourself and your company toward a more diverse and inclusive future.
  • Engage: Start a book club. Establish a regular lunch meeting that also functions as a discussion group. Pay attention to activists and events that align your initiatives and find ways to make them part of the conversation within your organization. Organizations should also think about how they are showing up in society. Support causes that advocate for diversity and equality, or set aside time or resources to give back to those causes with volunteer days or company events.
  • Train: Provide training and make sure that there are processes in place to ascertain that all employees understand your organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion—and that valuing and respecting differences is a non-negotiable that makes the organization stronger.
  • Support: Encourage employees to establish employee resource groups, online forums, and networking opportunities that build a sense of belonging. Create an internal team focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion to provide input, and support the company’s efforts — invite senior leaders to participate.
  • Sustain: DEI and racial justice are not boxes to be checked but a continuous journey that requires honesty, humility and ongoing collaboration with your entire organization.
  1. Strategic Planning. Establish where you are, where you need to be, your priorities and how you are going to get there.
  2. Mainstreaming. Don’t relegate DEI and racial justice to the sidelines. Instead, ensure continued sustainability by embedding these areas into your business, from strategic business planning, internal operations (including hiring and advancement) and externally for your clients, customers and the communities you serve.
  3. Reviewing and refreshing. DEI and racial justice are not static but rather evolving areas. It’s important to regularly review work against goals to ensure things are working and course-correcting when they aren’t.