Great, your company has a diversity committee. Now what? - Technical.ly

Company Culture

Aug. 11, 2020 7:03 am

Great, your company has a diversity committee. Now what?

Hear from Whitney A. White of Afara Global and Angie Jean Marie of TIME'S UP in the latest episode of The TWIJ Show.
Committees have a reputation for falling to inaction.

By design, they’re often filled with competing goals and perspectives, and they aren’t always the top priority of their members. It can be hard to determine when a leader is taking a complex issue seriously with a committee, or when that issue is being buried in meetings. As comedian Milton Berle is said to have put it: “A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.”

This question of whether your committee is a force or farce takes on special meaning when the subject is dire — like representation and inclusion, or lack thereof, in your workplace.

Racial inequality is again taking its rightful place as an urgent issue for founders, CXOs and people operations leaders across the country (and world). That means new workplace diversity committees are being launched, and existing ones are being revisited. Employee resource groups, task forces and, yes, committees are not themselves mistakes. The question is what happens because of them — whether Berle’s 20th century quip remains apt or not.

To dig into what can go wrong, and right, with your company’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative, I turned to two experts for this week’s episode of The TWIJ Show, Technical.ly’s weekly interview series on building better companies.

Whitney A. White runs innovation firm Afara Global, where she advises businesses on workforce issues, including diversity and inclusion strategy.

Angie Jean-Marie is the director of advocacy and engagement at TIME’S UP, the anti-harassment nonprofit. Her organization just released a guide to equity and inclusion in crisis.

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Below, watch and listen to our conversation, and peep the show notes.

Show notes:

  • Consider: How involved is top-level leadership? Is your company’s diversity program an afterthought or is it as central as any other company initiative?
  • Look at your company’s longest-tenured and most senior leaders. Do they reflect the communities your organization serves?
  • Issues of diversity, equity and inclusion are issues of recruiting, on-boarding, retaining, advancing and development. These are product and sales issues, as well as marketing and customer engagement. In short, they impact all teams and departments.
  • White notes two most frequent mistakes she sees company leaders making: relying on Black employees as free labor for diversity and inclusion work and waiting to be forced into issues of inclusion, which leads the results to feel forced and rushed.
  • Jean-Marie reminds that acts of antiracism are deeply structural. That means there will not be superficial changes only.
  • White people should be featured prominently in your diversity efforts, White confirms. Though it’s unique to your own staff preferences, White says it can be successful to have these initiatives led by white employees “in consultation with those with the lived experience” the committee is addressing.
  • Consider retaining outside experts, consultants or assessors. “We can’t see the backside of our own heads,” said White.
  • What’s a successful email to a consultant like White? Explain how you found her, note you have budget to address some specific problem or situation, and inquire if an introductory call would work.
  • Compensate effort beyond responsibilities. If this is an ongoing committee that goes beyond the existing scope of your team (that is, if you’re including perspectives beyond, say, someone in human resources), then compensate that additional effort.
  • Set clear goals. Are you intending to close a pay gap, or change staff makeup or the look of a leadership team? Do you have other culture or processes you’re looking to change? Set deadlines. These should be able to be either met or missed. What happens after those goals are reached?
  • Be transparent. Share with your team and other stakeholders what your goals are.
  • You will never be done. There is no end destination. After certain goals and deadlines are met, there will be new ones. Build your strategy not to appease short-term pressure but long-term change. Build it into your organizational culture.

Listen to our conversation:

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