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How to implement DEI policies that will stick? Buy-in and proactivity

These diversity, equity and inclusion pros talk about the steps to take to ingrain this work into your organization. One big requirement: Think of it as a long-term process, not a quick fix.

"Practical DEI Case Studies" session at Introduced by 2021. (Screenshot)

A year ago,  after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police, many companies took the time amid a worldwide racial justice movement to assess the inter-workings of their own race and diversity relations.

In the months following that tragedy, we heard local leaders speaking out and taking a hard look at their own operations. Many sought out a chief diversity officer, or sent employees to diversity training, or implemented policies around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at work. Some realized they needed to change their hiring or create support systems for employees of color.

“A lot of people did do DEI work, or did a stance for summer 2020, and now a lot of companies are coming to us saying … ‘What is the real work that needs to be done?'” said Alyssa Vásquez, senior consultant at Cultured Enuf, a Philly diversity consultancy firm. “And that has to do with implementing and embedding DEI work into the structure of your organization.”

Vásquez was speaking this month on a panel at Introduced by, the annual conference on building better companies that’s part of Philly Tech Week presented by Comcast.

Jael Chambers, president of Cultured Enuf, joined her and said that often companies want to get involved in the work but don’t know where to start or what it looks like. Usually, his firm starts with something they call a “diversity audit,” which looks at a company’s processes, documents and assesses what kind of work is realistic for that org.

A lot of leaders make commitments to hiring a more diverse staff of employees, but the problem goes deeper, Chambers said. The firm aims to help an organization make a roadmap to keeping the people they’re working to recruit and informing white staff about these policies.

“The problem isn’t really just in recruiting minorities,” he said. “It’s actually retaining them, developing them and supporting them where they actually want to stay in the organization.”

But when it comes to creating an application process that is welcoming and representative, University City Science Center’s Aron Starosta said the org has begun removing identifiers like “he” or “she” from applications for its programming, and instead focusing on the “idea” part.

Tribaja recruiting platform founder Shannon Morales — who was recently named a 2021 RealLIST Connector alongside Starosta — shared that one of her biggest indicators on whether an org is ready and willing to put in the work is if they’re seeking DEI strategies as a long-term situation rather than if they’re in a “sticky situation.” Morales said some of her red flags for orgs she’s considering partnering with include a lack of inclusive language in job descriptions, the inability to describe why DEI work is important, and senior leaders who don’t seem enthusiastic, or like they have a long-term strategy.

“We’re also not looking for organizations that are thinking of hiring a few professionals of color as a quick fix for their long-term problems,” she said.

And to make the work effective, it needs buy-in from every level, Vásquez said, not just someone from the human resources department. You also can’t start because you’re fearing losing something — whether it be donations or affiliations.

“When they’re under pressure and have to do the DEI work … we’re able to work with them, but we understand it may not be as easy and smooth of a process,” she said. “We’re in it with partners who are in it 100% willing to do the work and put their sleeves up.”

Companies: Tribaja / Cultured Enuf / University City Science Center

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