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Diversity and Inclusion: How to Change the Narrative in Workplace Culture

Why having a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace culture matters

By Carolyn Tandy

Most of us know a diverse, equitable and inclusive (DEI) workplace culture when we see it—or better yet, when we feel it. A culture of belonging, the true magic a workplace can create for employees, was once considered only an aspirational goal. Post 2020, a year that left us separated by COVID-19 and disheartened by social unrest stemming from America’s most recent racial awakening, DEI has now evolved into a business imperative.

However, DEI has held importance for workplace culture well before 2020, whether we recognized its power or not. A company’s investment in a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture can set it apart from its competition.

A DEI-centric work culture creates a beacon, a marker that attracts the best and brightest talent and actively proves to every heartbeat within the organization that they have value. Valuing diversity of identity, experience and thought allows talent to show up fully engaged and appreciated for their contribution.

DEI not only focuses in on the individual values, unique gifts and talents all people bring to the organization, but on the entire ecosystem that leverages those individual gifts to help grow, develop, utilize and expand the organizational capabilities to drive culturally relevant services and impact for the improved outcomes of its customers.

DEI strives to “right-size” organizational structures to ensure diverse talent is being considered, placed and developed at every level of a company. DEI that promotes creativity, innovation and team alignment towards shared organizational values is achieved success.  The bottom line: A firmly rooted DEI workplace culture benefits your people, your customers and your community.

Yet there are still companies that question or ration their investment in DEI to the detriment of their culture and their people, which shows up negatively in the numbers as well—team disengagement, customer dissatisfaction, quality control, safety and ultimately, attrition.
So, why is DEI so difficult to do?

For starters, humans have a habit of, well, complicating things. DEI is a perfect example. Many have turned the practice of DEI into something political, or have simplified these topics into subjects only Black, brown, disabled and gay people have the right or ability to engage in, or to the notion that to win in DEI, someone must lose.

These thoughts could not be further from the truth. Every single one of us has opportunity to gain in a DEI-centric work culture. Beyond your race, gender, ability and sexual orientation, your diverse identity upholds everything about you—where you grew up, who raised you, your siblings, your friends, what part of town you grew up in, the timeframe in which you grew up, your experiences…I could go on. Each of us has right and ownership to our diverse identity and a voice in DEI.

The uniqueness of our diverse identities also adds dimensions of complication. When encountering another person whose diverse identity or experience is different from our own, our human instinct is to protect ourselves and our turf to stay “safe.” While no one likes to be challenged, DEI forces you to consider that what you know to be true in your experience is not the only truth. DEI encourages you to get uncomfortable and consider other truths that exist and are equally valid.

This dynamic can naturally stir up feelings of fight or flight, yet DEI asks you to sit in that discomfort and proactively listen. DEI asks you to choose to be vulnerable and accepting of the identity and experience of the other person across from your cubicle (or computer screen) and conclude that while we are different, each experience and identity is equally true, important and deserving to be understood. As a coworker, you must be willing to strip away all of what you know to be true to validate and hold up what someone else knows to be true.

So do your part and get uncomfortable! Make DEI matter in your organization. Let’s stretch ourselves to bring the best out of our people. Our companies and our people, inside and outside our walls, will be better for it.

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