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Symbolic to Systematic: DEI Drives Business…Only If People Drive DEI

Jen Reid headshot

A Report from the Frontline of DEI Recruiting

As the Head of DEI at AC Lion, June is my box of chocolates: With Race Unity Day, Loving Day, Juneteenth, World Refugee Day, and Pride Day (actually, the whole month as LTBTQ+ Awareness/Pride), it makes it easier to be “aware” of cultural, societal, and organizational issues as related to the personal struggles and journeys of various community members during the month of June. But awareness is something that doesn’t come with a timestamp – it is something that a proactive, progressive, and professional community must imbibe as a daily ritual. 

As a member of society, it is my duty to be proactive and contribute to the community(ies) of which I am a part. As a parent, I am daily aware of the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of my children—and as a parent, I have limited time and resources and so I must assess and address the most pressing of those on a constant basis.  The same is true of a business owner or leader – your people, the professionals helping you build, are your responsibility.  The community(ies) in which you conduct business are your responsibility as well.  You have limited time and resources, and so you must constantly assess and address the most pressing needs they have physically, emotionally, and professionally. Yes, these are areas that your employees as professional adults have personal ownership in as well, but a business that wants sustained-growth, -health and -success must provide support in all these areas.

This is a big topic.  This is a topic with a lot of firing nerves and bruised skin.  And yet there are some very concrete ways your organization can make meaningful change.  Let’s explore what they are.

Assess and Address

There are 4 key areas you can assess to see where you might be healthy or require some work as an organization:

1. Leadership

Who are your managers, your executive team, your board members? If you were to put gender, race, identity, culture, economic status, colleges, and previous companies in an excel sheet, would it look rather repetitive?  This is something that should be addressed immediately and first—starting at the bottom helps, but only hiring a more diverse entry-level group does not create lasting, organizational change.  Partner with a consulting or recruiting firm that specializes in this area to help you evaluate and effect change at the leadership level.

2. Retention

If the Great Resignation has taught us anything, it shouldn’t be that people like working at home in their fuzziest slippers.  It should be that there are companies out there doing things that make their employees feel heard, supported, and valuable—and that is what motivates people to make a change.  And because location is no longer an issue, the aperture has been opened for professionals to seek out those companies.

Your organization should not choose a decent medical/dental/vision/prescription insurance suite + PTO policy and call it a day – it should create a customized suite of offerings that your employees can engage with according to their specific needs.  Below is just the start of an exhaustive suite of programs, services, and benefit categories that your organization should consider investing in.

  • Bias Mitigation and Training
  • Equity and Inclusion Training
  • Identity Counseling
  • Parents
  • Mothers
  • Families
  • Fertility
  • Mental Health
  • Fitness Support
  • Continued Education
  • Diet/Healthy Eating
  • Tobacco/Nicotine cessation
  • Career Coaching

No matter how you augment, change, and adapt, three ongoing behaviors are important when it comes to retention:

Lead by example

Programs, groups, conversations aren’t just for those in the trenches—members at all levels should be a part of the effort and devote time and energy to participation.

Be consistent

This isn’t something to check a box; it’s not a set it and forget it solution – engage consistently, re-evaluate more than once a year, conversations around how inclusive your culture, programs, and benefits are should be a part of every business-strategy meeting.  It weighs as equally as your profit-margin to your bottom line.

Regularly gather feedback – both real-time and anonymous

80% of companies are leveraging Employee Resource Groups to initiate or manage feedback conversations; 48% of companies have CEO’s “fireside chats” with their staff; 38% of companies are having racial justice talks by divided out ethnicity.  If you’re doing these things, then you are half-way there.  But then creating an even safer (anonymous) space for employees to engage in real, honest feedback regarding the culture, benefits, and management/leadership is the second, and equally important, factor in creating an inclusive environment.

3. Recruitment

I do not advocate for a mass-layoff to leave room for a more diverse workforce.  But what I do advocate for is an awareness of and an effort in mitigating the lack of representation in the following categories: LTBTQ+, Disabled, Women, Veteran, and Underrepresented Minorities (URM)

To put it simply: You cannot hire different candidates until you start recruiting differently.  You cannot keep the same job descriptions, the same “wish-list”, the same background education and career profiles in mind if you want the end results to look different from the current reality.

I once had a client engage us for our Diversity Recruiting program.  We had a wonderful, fruitful conversation about the importance of diversity hiring.  We agreed that starting at the entry-level doesn’t work because leadership needs to reflect the variety they are seeking to hire.  We agreed that there is systematic change needed in our nation.  We agreed that a more diverse population leads to stronger, more successful organizations. And then there was the “But”.  “But—we still need our candidates to come from an Ivy-League College or University.”  I cannot stress this enough: we cannot continue to perpetuate the bias that led us to a professional landscape dominated by white heterosexual male professionals. Certainly great strides have been made in the last half-century, but we are putting our heads in the sand if we believe we do not still have far to go.

4. Impact

The Business Case for DEI? Studies have shown that:

  • Investing in DEI leads to cost savings though reduced attrition and absenteeism, and faster time to hire. 
  • Higher Gender Diversity leads to higher profits, according to the 2020 McKinsey Report.   Companies in the top 25% of gender diversity on their exe teams were 25% more likely to have higher than average profitability and 35% outperformance on EBIT for ethnic and cultural diversity.
  • A Study by the Center for Talent Innovation reports that ideas from women, people of color, LGBTs, and Gen-Ys are less likely to win the endorsement they need to go forward because 56% of leaders don’t value ideas, they don’t personally see a need for. The data strongly suggest that homogeneity stifles innovation.
  • A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation.” It’s not just the management team alone, and it spreads across the entire brand.
  • According to research by Fundera, racially and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to perform better, while diverse teams are 70% more likely to capture and penetrate new markets.
  • 22Squared, a marketing agency in Atlanta, worked with the NAACP to map the hundreds of Confederate monuments still standing in the United States, share their history, let visitors add graffiti-style tags to a statue, then contact a local elected official to call for its removal.

DEI isn’t a quick fix.  Like many things in life, it requires a sustained and sustainable effort.  Those of us in HR, TA and recruiting start the process, but it takes a village, a company, a society to encourage change throughout the enterprise. But now’s your chance to be an advocate for change, to help each of us diversify and include others in both thought and action.  

Jennifer Reid

DEI Lead and Executive Recruiter at AC Lion, I have almost 10 years' experience in recruiting and I have prided myself in my catered approach to talent acquisition, starting my search efforts anew for each client. I recently partnered with AC Lion because they share my values and approach when it comes to recruiting, while upping my game with greater access to multiple technology platforms and an incredible team of professionals to service my clients and candidates. Additionally, we share a passion for not just talking, but DOING something about improving Diversity and Integrity in the workplace--I am proud to be leading a new Diversity and Inclusion platform that will enable our clients to effectively, legally, and ethically increase the diversity profile of their talent pipeline across all gender, ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds.