Why creating meaningful change requires a sustained effort, and what every employee can do to lead the change. This article highlights the thoughts shared by DEI expert Karen Hinds (CEO, Workplace Success Group) in this episode of the AXIOM Insights podcast.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is an important facet of leadership in all organizations, according to DEI expert Karen Hinds. DEI should be integrated into leadership development, she says, and viewed as a strategic change initiative that requires time and commitment.
DEI as a Business Imperative
A focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is a business imperative as well as a human issue, says Hinds. Studies have shown that diverse and inclusive organizations outperform their peers on a number of measures, including better profitability (according to McKinsey) and innovation (according to a Boston Consulting Group study).
Hinds says companies are embracing diversity at different rates, both in their internal organization and how they present themselves to customers — showing diverse faces in advertising, for example.
“In every industry, those who are ready to move forward are seeing the change, and those that aren’t are going to have to make a decision as to how they show up for the people they serve, and the people they ask to buy their products,” Hinds said.
The Role of Empathy in Advancing DEI
Empathy isn’t sympathy — but requires action, says Hinds. “We have to get back to this place of humanity, and recognizing we’re all in the storm of life, but we’re having different experiences.
“It’s important that we stop and listen and pay attention to how someone else is experiencing the world, and not assume they are having the same experience as you are.”
Start With the Individual; Start with Yourself
Building an inclusive culture can begin at any level of the organization. Hinds suggests considering who you have lunch with, who you bring a question to, or where you turn when you need feedback about an idea. Do you have people in your network who are different from you? Consider the many facets of diversity — racial or ethnic background, position, neurodiversity, gender, and more.
“If everyone in your circle looks like you, why don’t we start there? It may take time to make change in senior leadership, but the one place you have control over is, how do you show up? How do you use your power to impact change and help those around you? How do you ensure you can advocate for other people when you see the opportunity? Who are you mentoring?
“Individually, we have power we can use. Even if senior leadership were to come along and put together the best DEI plan, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be effective right away. It’s still going to take time, and it’s still going to require what I’m outlining here from middle management.”
Many leaders, Hinds says, are often trying to bridge their own experiences. “They’re trying to understand where did this all come from. It’s not that this is new, it’s that it’s been brought to the forefront.”
“This is a very challenging discussion…. start by giving them space to ask the difficult questions… start by building awareness about what we’re talking about,” says Hinds. “You can’t expect anyone to be a change agent if they’re not aware of the issues.”
Trust as a Foundation of Change
“Trust is demonstrated long before you have the conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Hinds. “I think what is important for senior leaders is to set the example… build a culture that supports that.”
Building trust into a company culture starts at the top, says Hinds, and trust needs to be created to support effective DEI initiatives.
“You can’t train anybody to be culturally sensitive. You build their awareness, and give them the opportunity to demonstrate that on a day to day basis,” said Hinds.