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Want Your Employees To Stay? Be Accountable To Your DEI Goals

Workers want more than just a paycheck, they want purpose and belonging. Employers can weather this wave of resignations by creating an environment of belonging.

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In the job market created by the resignation wave, there are all kinds of deal-breakers for workers that have left their employers scrambling to improve wages, benefits and workplace culture. While they're at it, they'd be remiss not to improve their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies as well.

In the past few months, we've seen companies pulling out all the stops — from maintaining pandemic-era flexibility, to getting creative with perks. Microsoft, for example, committed to sustainability to appeal to employees' values. TD Bank gifted shares in the company to employees who stuck out the pandemic.

But nobody is making headlines for doubling down on DEI. Although, for the record, they should be. The social contract between employee and employer has changed — workers don't just want a paycheck, they want purpose and belonging. But real workplace diversity and inclusion takes hard work and accountability that quite frankly, often feels uncomfortable. That's where this wave of resignations offers a chance to hit reset. It's an opportunity to create an environment of belonging that benefits everyone in your company and makes them want to stick around.

Open mind

After the tragic death of George Floyd, a social justice reckoning rippled throughout the world. Companies spoke out against racism and made pledges. But I wondered, who will hold them accountable? Out of that question was born a three-pronged approach to DEI that's earned recognition for our people analytics company.

The first piece of the puzzle is cultivating an open mind. The goal is to turn off auto-pilot, challenge unconscious bias and ask deeper questions about how and why we're doing things.

So many workplace norms are based on tradition rather than science. The way job descriptions are written and distributed, hiring processes that favor the status quo and patterns of bias built into performance reviews all combine to reinforce the results of the past.

In practice, an open mind approach means really thinking about those organizational practices. For every vacancy, we must ask "what opportunity do we have to make a difference with this hire?" It's by examining whether actions truly meet intentions that we can disrupt the inertia of our flawed, familiar, and rushed ways.

As businesses struggle to fill vacancies, and more employees consider quitting than ever before, now is the optimal time to realize the way we've been doing things — from interviews, to scheduling and promotions — is not the best way. In fact, oftentimes, it's the worst way.

Open book

At its root, the human resources department was built to guard information. Organizations often believe they can avoid getting sued by keeping sensitive company data, like workforce representation gaps, locked up. But that lack of transparency makes accountability impossible. Contrary to the old way of thinking, releasing information can be a business advantage.

In fact, investors are demanding it. The SEC ramped up its data disclosure requirements earlier this year, but investors want companies to go even further. Support for shareholder proposals on addressing DEI in the workforce nearly doubled, and many shareholders also pushed companies to release demographic data and board makeup.

Workers, too, are paying attention to whether company actions live up to company statements. Nearly 80% of people surveyed said they want to work for a company that values diversity, equity and inclusion.

Without transparent data disclosure, DEI strategy is a single outcome with diffuse accountability. Instead, we need to follow the example of other departments.

CFOs help people make decisions informed by revenue and expense. Monthly, they release numbers, and it's on everybody to reflect and correct. That steady rhythm of report, reflect, correct, repeat helps people connect their individual decisions to collective outcomes. Treating human resources data the same way would make it easier to spot inequities in the promotion cycle, biases in recruiting and to set targets that improve organizational DEI.

Only by opening the books and reporting company data can organizations determine whether they need to address structural or behavioral issues — or both — to meet their DEI goals. A transparent and self-aware approach can be a strong driver for recruitment and retention right now.

Open heart

We live in a divisive time. Particularly in the U.S., polarization runs deep, and even the common goal of fighting the coronavirus has not been able to bridge the divide. For employers, it's paramount to create work environments where people feel safe to have dialogue. This set of principles is what I call Open Heart.

This is where the people who make up an organization find connection with the company's vision, values and purpose.

Leaders must set an example with the behavior they want to see. Part of this is calling out harmful practices and behavior. Actions that don't align with the company's DEI vision should be addressed with constructive conflict and kindness. For example, making an observation and offering the perspective of how it might make someone feel can be illuminating.

Done right, with humility and empathy, companies can move forward together. Dialogue with the company as a community is essential to bring the organization's DEI pledge to life. The strategy for building a more inclusive company can't be siloed in HR alone. It needs to be a cultural responsibility. As the saying goes, it takes a village.

Especially in trying times, some leaders have tried to separate business from what's going on in the world. But the pandemic has illustrated it's an impossible task.

Instead, it's time to recognize businesses as drivers of change. We can build workplaces that are more fair and just than the rest of the world if we light our path with data, accountability and cultural leadership. As our employees seek work that isn't just a job, but gives them a deeper sense of connection, it's on us to build the diverse, inclusive, equitable communities of belonging that we want to see mirrored in the world at large. Indeed, if we do, we'll create workplaces where people will want to stay.

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