Originally posted by Training Magazine.
Diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) are more than guidelines, programs or quotas. Empowering all employees is part of building an inclusive company. Diverse teams bring forth innovation, which makes a business competitive and successful.
Los Angeles-headquartered accounting and advisory firm GHJ’s multicultural workforce is the foundation and key ingredient to growth and employee satisfaction. GHJ’s Chief People Officer Alex Seiler recently explained that practicing DEIA is everyone’s responsibility.
“You cannot look at DEIA as an initiative,” Seiler said. “DEIA should be part of the core values and an ongoing commitment. Its success or failure will come down to the hard work that everyone puts in.”
In order to create a successful DEIA program, there are several steps that organizations can take.
TACKLE THE STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS FIRST
It may seem obvious, but determining who will manage a DEIA program and who should play a role are the first steps to implementing the program. There needs to be a governance structure in place, such as a steering committee or council. Building a DEIA program that is intentional, measurable and transparent is essential to success. Leadership must invest time, money and resources, and members of the council should be equipped to guide and provide a framework.
“Commitment needs to start at the top,” said GHJ Partner and Chief Strategy Officer Mari-Anne Kehler, CDP, who was a key driver in developing GHJ’s DEIA strategy. “If leadership is not fully invested, then all the grassroots efforts in the world will not advance the DEIA efforts.”
Having a governance structure holds people accountable to communicate goals and progress toward them. Define a charter, mission and strategy that everyone can work toward. Understanding goals helps individuals understand what they need to do as part of those collective efforts.
CONSIDER THE ORGANIZATION’S NEEDS
Part of developing those goals begins with understanding where the starting line is through a diversity audit. A diversity audit helps businesses understand the demographics and culture of the workforce and identify factors that will help create an inclusive environment.
“One way to start is to establish inclusive recruiting and mentorship,” Kehler said. “Representation matters — people aspire to careers that they see people that resemble them having. If a company is not finding the right candidates, they are not fishing in the right pond.”
Leverage tools such as blind hiring or scorecards, bias training and artificial intelligence to counter hidden prejudices. If there is a lack of representation in the applicant pool, consider a change in recruitment methods, whether that means reaching out to different colleges or using a platform like Jopwell dedicated to connecting employers to applicants of color.
CREATE THE SPACE FOR DIALOGUE
Internally, businesses can establish employee resource groups (ERGs) or cohorts. ERGs lead to higher retention rates, identify and develop leaders from within and better employee education.
“When deciding which cohort to create, start where the passion is,” Kehler said. “We recognized a passion among our employees for women’s initiatives as well as Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). GHJ’s Women’s Empowerment Cohort and BIPOC Cohort were then created.”
Furthermore, ERGs should service employee needs and concerns, and a governance committee blesses those initiatives so that progress can be made.
A substantial DEIA program requires more than just creating ERGs, however. Ongoing awareness and training are essential to creating an effective DEIA program.
“This is a concept that is a verb in its nature,” Kehler said. “Behaviors must match values, and employees must be culturally intelligent about one another.”
Diversity training is aimed at improving intergroup relations and reducing bias or prejudice in the workplace (such as unconscious bias training), awareness (such as microaggressions) or skill-acquisition (such as inclusive management or allyship). Unconscious bias training provides information that contradicts stereotypes and allows people to connect with others whose experiences are different.
START SMALL AND MOVE WITH INTENTION
There are many potential elements to a DEIA program, and the best way to structure one is based on what feels natural to the organization and its needs. There are a few common elements among successful DEIA programs, and the goal should be a well-rounded program, but there is no winning formula that fits all companies.
“The biggest mistake people make is to run before they walk,” Seiler said. “Start by prioritizing areas that will have the greatest impact. Be intentional with goals.”
Once the framework is established, it should be integrated into the culture. Gallup recommends three actions for leaders:
- Identify priorities based on an assessment of the organization’s current state.
- Determine how to plan to achieve goals. Leaders should select a dedicated team to steer, execute and champion a strategy that is tailored to that plan.
- Plan to sustain momentum. Accountability embeds DEIA in an organization’s strategy, and that requires commitment. Employees take cues from leadership and gauge authenticity based on actions, words and strategies.
The final piece is measurement.
“Set both aspirational and realistic goals,” Seiler said. “This can mean setting hard numbers for increasing leadership representation or new hires within historically underrepresented groups. It could also mean increasing the number of employees who take part in DEIA trainings. Businesses need to have the analytics to quantify whether they are getting the ROI on their efforts.”
Businesses can create the freedom, candor and quality of conversation in meetings by focusing on two key areas: giving permission and creating safety. Permission to say or ask anything is essential to allowing people to fully express themselves and provide feedback about issues when there is a need.
Foster an environment that allows employees to be their authentic selves. One way to measure that is by participation and engagement in existing ERGs. For GHJ, collective diversity of thought and experiences is what makes the firm a place where its employees can #BeMore together.
Employees should feel comfortable sharing their feelings and experiences, and leadership should check in regularly to make sure that employee needs are being met. When leadership is dedicated to creating the culture to support DEIA, employees will have permission to be individuals and will leverage their unique talents to help the organization succeed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Barry, CPA, is the Managing Partner at GHJ. As Managing Partner, he sees himself as a combination of entrepreneur, partner, consultant, coach and business advisor. With more than 25 years of accounting experience, Barry believes in leveraging technology to create a flexible schedule that allows him to be a father and husband in addition to fully committing to his career at the firm.