How can leaders rethink the implementation of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training and initiatives to maximize returns on their people and culture?
Successful EDI training involves the embedding of equitable practices, procedures, and policies in every facet of an organization, and it is not offered as a stand-alone training or performative. Organizations that rush to implement EDI training programs without reviewing their motivation, internal practices, policies and programs have difficulty sustaining the changes they wish to see, and return to the previous paradigm for their organizations. For an organization to develop, value, and profit from EDI training, it requires authentic buy-in to the benefits that can be had for all stakeholders; from employees, managers, customers and owners: to move from traditional “Human Resources” organization to a “People and Culture” organization.
When recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, leaders should consider reflecting on the institutional, systemic, and personal biases they hold, as it is these biases that form the cultural inertia which undermines real lasting change.
Bias, in all its forms, is an integral part of who we are and is developed, nurtured, and sustained by our upbringing, culture, and society at large. There is no escaping it, and understanding how it impacts marginalized workers is essential in creating a work culture that is inclusive and financially successful. Bias is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the action of supporting or opposing a particular person or thing in an unfair way because of allowing personal opinions to influence your judgment.”
Biases can be unconscious or conscious beliefs, opinions or actions. For example, implicit biases are unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect our decisions and treatment of others. Explicit biases are conscious attitudes and beliefs we have about individuals or groups. In the work environment, biases begin at the recruitment phase and can affect who we interview and hire. It impacts the retention phase of employment by affecting worker evaluations, promotions, and salary advancement. Simply put, bias (whether explicit or implicit) impacts our interactions with others and at times creates situations where others are excluded or unjustly treated, creating a toxic work environment. This can impact professional and personal outcomes, build resentment, and discourage full commitment to the organization. Meaningful improvement in these channels requires leaders to have the courage to actively interrogate and challenge their own personal and institutional biases; to build better, more resilient, more diverse cultures to get the best out of their people.
Cultural competency-based questions are used in schools by educators to determine how to best to support diverse student communities. Organizations can use a similar framework as a pre-emptive guide before hiring or implementing diversity initiatives.
- Whose voices are present?
Take the time to consider who is heard, who isn’t, and why they aren’t being heard? What settings silence the participation of employees? What settings enable fulsome participation of employees?
- How are they represented?
Does the diversity in your workforce go beyond visible characteristics of race and gender? Are there any invisible diversities/characteristics such as social status/class, gender identity, expression or orientation, and disability (physical, mental, or neurological) and do they intersect? How does this intersection of identities impact the employee and their employment?
- Whose voices are absent?
Are there voices that are absent due to a lack of representation or a lack of presence in decision-making settings? Is dissension appreciated or undervalued and silenced? Are neurodivergent thinkers given time to voice their opinions and thoughts?
- What and whose knowledge is recognized and valued?
Is knowledge that is not Eurocentric, colonial based or ableist valued? Are the same employees recognized and why? Is the recognition culturally competent?
- Do resources acknowledge as many people and perspectives as possible?
Are employee handbooks, procedures, and policies aware of visible and invisible biases in their presentation, the language used, and expectations? Are the documents and resources easily accessible?
- What assessments and evaluation tools are mostly used and are they equitable?
What are the metrics involved in employee evaluations? Is the assessor cognizant of any biases they may hold when evaluating an employee? What are the mechanisms to mitigate bias in evaluation, or to provide re-evaluation when complaints arise?
Review and reflect on the responses to the cultural competency based questions by considering the following:
- Did the responses challenge your understanding of the organization and how it functions? Why?
- What is the organization doing well? What are they not doing well?
- What areas require change?
- What type of learning will you and your organization engage in to implement these changes and initiatives?
Organizations who have unpacked their workplace culture by reflecting on past and current inequities and who lean into the discomfort can begin to develop initiatives that focus on recruitment and retention strategies, policies, procedures, and expectations to create a progressive work culture. It is the responsibility of leaders to communicate their commitment in making EDI a part of every facet of their organization by sharing the results of their discussions, their vision, next steps and learning opportunities for employees. EDI initiatives are not quick and easy solutions to reduce the impact of discrimination and employee flight, they take time, and require ongoing conversations that provide the tools for employees to navigate the workplace.
Taking the time to reflect on the people they employ, the organizational culture that includes the policies and procedures implemented, and investing in strategic needs-based training is essential. Embedding time and flexibility to have ongoing, meaningful conversations with follow-up so that changes can be made to move forward must be a priority. Continuing to review, reflect and strategize allows for integration of strong EDI-based initiatives that are flexible and supportive of current and future employees is the new way of doing business.
When implemented with care and empathy, EDI initiatives and training can support previously marginalized and historically excluded employees to feel a greater sense of belonging and inclusion, while also allowing others to step up and help create a positive work environment.
About the Author
Over a 30-year career in the education sector, Kalpana has worked to facilitate the success of students and teachers from all backgrounds. Embedding the principles of an anti-oppressive framework in her career as a Teacher and Elementary Vice Principal with specialization in inclusive education, language development, and mental health and well-being, has provided her with the skills to navigate various situation with compassion and empathy. Kalpana’s roles as an Executive Staff Officer at the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) in Equity and Women’s Services, and most recently in Professional Learning and Curriculum Services, has helped her develop an expertise in the benefits of EDI and its integration in diverse organizational cultures.
For more than 15 years, Kalpana has led ETFO membership programs both locally and provincially; provided organizational environmental scans on programs, policies and demographics; and facilitated presentations at universities, school boards and not for profit organizations on supporting and promoting diverse leadership roles and inclusive and equitable practices.
She has trekked to more then 16 countries and has volunteered as an educator and mentor in many of them. She currently lives in the Toronto with her family.
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