In the contemporary workforce – and in the modern world – these are more than just corporate buzzwords. These are movements, ideas that seek to revolutionize and harmonize the way we view the world around us and our place in it. In the tireless quest to inspire and equip emerging leaders with the tools and resources to build a more just and sustainable world, Net Impact is at the forefront, spearheading the evolution of conceptualization into action. But what exactly does that look like? What exactly does diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) mean?
What is DEI?
The premise is simple1. A workplace is stronger and better suited to serving its customers and clients if its workforce is proportionately representative of the population. Strength exists in unity as well as in diversity. An organization whose employee population is sufficiently diverse, with an emphasis on equality and inclusivity, is more in tune with the needs, ideals and interests of those it seeks to serve.
Diversity definition: A relatively proportionate mix of employees from varying cultural, ethnic, racial and gender backgrounds creates an organization that understands the unique needs of its clients and customers.
Equity definition: This is a seemingly simple, yet eternally evasive concept. Acknowledge, accept and advance are key here. Level the playing field and standardize the bar so that everyone, based on merit, has the opportunity to impact the organization and ascend the ranks from contributor to leader.
Inclusivity definition: This means creating an environment and corporate culture where the expectation and understanding are that differences are an asset, not a liability. Ensuring that employees with minority backgrounds, opinions, beliefs and traditions are seen and heard, not only as individual contributors but as leaders, is integral to creating thriving, inclusive spaces.
On the surface, these concepts seem simple and self-evident. But the implementation of them remains an ongoing challenge. So, to transform the conversation from interesting to actionable, it takes top-down buy-in and executive input. Careful planning with strategic vision, attainable milestones and wholesale adoption is fundamental to building a ground-up DEI platform primed for success.
Why DEI matters
Aside from the imperative to move the needle of building a more accepting and inclusive society, the impetus behind diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within academic and professional environments is obvious and self-serving. Ideas and insights are more interesting and individualized when their origins transcend tradition. The synergistic relationship between commerce and culture are circuitous. One feeds off the other.
Commerce can dictate cultural evolution and adaptation. And commerce needs to constantly adapt to shifts in culture. The agility, adaptability and flexibility of a truly diverse and inclusive organization allow them to script the narrative and create proactive platforms to address anticipated shifts in cultural trends and preferences. This breeds consistency, predictability and strength.
There is a pervasive misconception that DEI initiatives lower the talent bar when, in reality, nothing is further from the truth. Ultimately, the objective is to build a more cohesive corporate culture. Eliminating biases - intended or inadvertent - from hiring practices, such as filtering candidates based on colleges and internships with prestigious organizations (which are historically skewed towards non-diverse populations) can yield less traditional but more culturally compatible candidates. This creates a culture where people feel accepted and heard and are likely to carve out a career track, rather than just a pit stop to pad their resume. When a company breeds that kind of loyalty, the result is often longevity.
Only 56% of the nation's 87 million millennials are white, meaning nearly half of the available workforce is comprised of diverse individuals. To ignore the merits of building an active DEI strategy is self-defeating and distracts focus from the 44% of emerging talent2.
What’s the problem?
So why haven’t DEI programs become the expectation rather than the exception? The bottom line – the idea is easy, but the execution is not4. Challenging decades-old standards and paradigms takes time as well as momentum and inertia that has to be constructed around a comprehensive and cohesive core of central tenets and ideals.
Blazing a trail towards DEI takes sincere and significant buy-in from executive leadership. It has to be omnipresent within boardroom discussions. The moral, ethical and fiscal value has to be evaluated and agreed upon – which is still, unfortunately, sometimes a challenge. Then a clear path towards attainable objectives and milestones must be implemented and supported by strategic vision and corporate resources.
Given the relative novelty of such significant emphasis on DEI efforts, there is a shortage of talented, skilled and knowledgeable workers ready and able to assume the challenges incumbent upon them to be catalysts for change within their organizations. Net Impact is committed to fostering educational and developmental opportunities for students and aspiring professionals who are driven to be that voice of change.
Who is in
You’d be hard-pressed to find an academic institution that hasn’t bought in and implemented internal organizational DEI initiatives as well as create a dynamic, evolving curriculum to cater to the rapidly changing emphasis on DEI within the private sector. Cornell, The University of Iowa, Harvard, Google, Apple, MetLife: The list of educational institutions and employers who have fully embraced the value of diversity, equity and inclusion is exhaustive.
Academia and IT seem to be leading the charge in the pursuit of more inclusive workplaces because the competitive advantages have become self-evident. In fact, in 2017, 72% of tech employees revealed that diversity and inclusion were important in their companies, showing that more and more businesses are recognizing and taking part in this cultural and professional shift3.
The focus is shifting from who IS in to who ISN’T in because, soon, the spotlight will be aimed at organizations that are ignoring the obvious and essential merits of a diverse, equitable and inclusive atmosphere. They will be seen as out of touch, dated and verging on obsolescence. Net Impact strives to align themselves with organizations and opportunities that embrace and model DEI platforms so that their members can readily connect with corporate cultures whose values closely match their own.
What can I do?
Aside from the obvious civil and societal contributions that can be effected through a career in DEI-oriented positions, the career trajectory is becoming clearer for candidates with demonstrated expertise in DEI initiatives:
- HR Coordinator.
- Talent Acquisition Specialist.
- Human Resources Manager.
- VP of Operations.
These are a small sample size of positions that can squarely rest in the crosshairs of DEI program participants. The truth is, the career path for graduates with a strong track record of competency with diversity, equity and inclusion is uncharted and virtually limitless. But, what is absolutely certain is that the need will only grow from here. Net Impact is actively courting partners who exemplify the importance of fostering an environment of sustainability and inclusivity, and the boundaries of such a new but essential position are not yet clearly defined. But what is crystal clear is that DEI matters. Perhaps now more than ever in a world divided, it is essential to emphasize strength in unity through diversity. We are different. But we are in this together.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are not just buzzwords. They are a movement that, hopefully, breeds acceptance and understanding and inspires values in action.