By Barb Ward from an interview with Gail Gumminger

Think back to when you were a child. The world and everything in it held such wonder. You had no preconceived notions of what anything or anyone should be. You took things in and made a determination based on what you learned. What would happen if we, as adults, could roll back the tape and approach the issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Social Justice with such a blank canvas?

Even starting the conversation about social justice or DEI topic in our politically and emotionally charged environment can be daunting. But it is important to understand that social justice is not about politics. The topic should not be addressed with a ‘Right or Wrong’ approach, rather, we should work to put structures in place to make sure underrepresented individuals and groups have equal access to services and opportunities. If we could open our minds to childlike wonder and create a culture that is curious, one that is open to different perspectives and poses the question, “What if?” How different would things be?

“The truth is, investing in diverse talent makes your organization stronger,” says Gail Gumminger, Leadership Consultant for Innovative Connections. “When you promote a culture that asks questions and is open to different backgrounds and perspectives, you open yourself and your organization to a whole new world of ideas and opportunities. On the flip side, if you are unwilling to listen and learn, you close yourself and your organization off to opportunities to grow and develop better solutions.”

While she agrees that it can be a difficult conversation to start, she is committed to helping organizations overcome that fear and move forward. “Social justice and DEI are not just a checkbox to mark off the list, it’s not just a class for employees to get through, it is the embodiment of what the collective organization stands for,” she says.

And, while the conversation is imperative, she stresses that to make transformational change, it has to be more than a conversation, it has to move us to action. “The conversation starts when you look at the organization’s mission, vision and values, and compare them with the current cultural norms,” Gumminger says, “this tells you what the organization wants to stand for, and where there might be gaps. From there you can begin to strategize and put structures into place that will result in the changes needed to fill the gaps. This is when you begin to see the dial move.”

We can start with becoming aware of our own unconscious bias. Consciously seek to understand where our own bias occurs and root it out. This work requires self-awareness and radical candor. You must become aware of how you see the world and others, commit to expanding your lens, and be courageous enough to hold space and conversation to elevate our DEI intentions.

It is important for organizations to be clear in defining DEI. Words do matter. We all have unique experiences that form our understanding of DEI. We make progress when we can openly talk about what DEI is and what it is not. Co-creating DEI definition and intention is very effective within organizations.

Many times, looking at the talent lifecycle and determining ways to attract and retain a diverse workforce can provide a solid step in the right direction for organizations. Following are some tips to set your organization up for success:

1 – Level the playing field. Talent lifecycles- removing unconscious bias from recruiting practices and job descriptions can help level the playing field. For example, removing minimum qualifications, or equating experience as important as education can help level the economic bias playing field.

2 – Expand your reach. Sourcing and posting – expanding your reach to include different outreach pipelines that communicate with underrepresented populations can help find a more diverse pool of candidates. For example, looking for talent through schools, veteran’s associations, and community organizations that are already in place can help you extend your reach.

3 – Be inclusive. Ensure the language in your job descriptions (and for that matter-all communication) is inclusive. Pay attention to how pronouns are used, do everything you can to eliminate barriers.

4 – Make interview processes fair. Who is on your interview panel? Ensure diverse views are represented. Ensure questions support the success of the candidate rather than trying to trip them up. Consider providing questions in advance to allow candidates to prepare to put their best self forward.

5 – Prepare new hires for success. When onboarding sometimes you must go slow to go fast. Ensure the proper training is taking place for your new hires to get to know staff members, structures and key processes that will set them up for success.

6 – Keep staff engaged. To retain your valuable staff, the change you seek must come from the top and it has to be built into the organization’s values. More than ever before, individuals want to work for companies that value the same things they do. To further enhance your employee’s engagement, career development opportunities, as well as advancement opportunities within the organization are important factors. When you invest in your employees, they invest in you.

It sounds simple, but it takes desire, commitment, and hard work to make change happen in any organization. However, it is worth it. Creating a culture of curiosity, we make it safe for everyone to be who they are regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, and on and on. It’s no longer a factor, and everyone fits.

“When we listen to learn, all voices come forward which allows us to create a culture that honors and respects everyone,” Gumminger says.