Demystifying DEI: 4 Steps To Reduce The Perplexity Of Workplace Equity
Welcome to my weekly Q&A feature. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)
If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions — tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. Each week I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.
The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusion.
- Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.
- Inclusion: bringing others along on the journey.
Bring Clarity To Your Gender Equity Strategy
HR manager here. A huge insight I came to recently is the “why” behind all the resistance I’m facing in promoting diversity & inclusion at work. I believe it’s because the topic is so complex and heavy. For example, someone asked me what the difference is between D&I, DEI, DEIB (B for belonging), DEIJ (J for justice), racial equality, gender equality, LGBT equality (or is it LGBTQ+), Black Lives Matter, and ESG. I didn’t know how to respond. How can I reduce the complexity of this issue to actually make a dent in progress?
I’m nodding my head in acknowledgment of the intricacies and weight surrounding the DEI conversation. This work demands bravery. Because when we talk about DEI, we are talking about people. And people are complex, 3-dimensional beings. You, me, your colleagues — we can’t be reduced to checkboxes. Nor should we be.
Is categorizing people based on their chromosomes, their native tongue, their place of worship, their personality type, or their generational cohort the best way to manage people?
No. We need a better framework for thinking about equity in the workplace.
Frameworks For Equity
Instead of demographic check-boxes, think intersectionality. Intersectionality recognizes that our identities (whether they be intrapersonal, interpersonal, or group identities) overlap. These identities don’t compete for space in a hierarchy.
They intersect in the logic of 1+1 = 3. That is, the intersection of our identities transforms our experience of the world.
Here’s a real-life example to make this concept concrete: Pipeline (my company) found through its implementations that men receive promotions at a 21% greater rate than women. When we applied the intersectional lens, we found the promotion gap doubles for Black women. The intersection of gender and race changes how this cohort experiences the workplace.
For those familiar with the VUCA framework (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), DEI falls in the complexity box. It carries an air of elusiveness and has multiple interconnected parts.
We can likely agree to our end destination, but we may not agree on how we are going to arrive there. These attributes make DEI categorically complex within the VUCA framework.
To reach an agreement on the path forward so we can ultimately reach our end goal, we need to inject clarity into the complexity of DEI. We need to be on the same page. How? Follow these four steps to reduce the perplexity of DEI.
4 Steps To Reduce The Perplexity Of DEI
1. Choose your nomenclature
There is no universal standard around DEI nomenclature, nor is there a ubiquitous definition and application for each term under the DEI umbrella. How you refer to the work you’re doing to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace depends on your company and your culture.
Avoid getting caught up in DEI’s neologisms. Focus less on the semantics of each possible term and more on the end goal, which is equity for all. Equity for all intersectional cohorts. Equity at all stages of the employee lifecycle. Equity of opportunity. Equity of pay. Equity of access. At my company, we use the term intersectional gender equity to capture our endeavor toward equity for all.
2. Put inclusion and equity before diversity
Optimizing for diversity before equity and inclusion jeopardizes the longevity of your DEI efforts. Without an equitable and inclusive workplace to support a diverse workforce, you risk losing the very people you seek to attract.
Worse, the cost of replacing an employee ranges from 20–150% of their salary. So lay your foundation first. Then build in diversity.
3. Integrate, don’t add
Instead of adding more diversity programs to your and your employees’ to-do lists, focus on integrating intersectional gender equity into your people operations.
What if instead of attending another lecture on pay negotiation tactics, employees could concentrate on what they were hired to do without wondering if they are receiving fair wages?
What if instead of completing another implicit bias training, managers could prevent inequity from creeping into performance reviews by using NLP to flag biased phrases?
What if instead of conducting annual pay equity analyses, companies could rest assured that every decision made across the entire organization at any point throughout the year maintained pay equity?
Integrating DEI into your corporate DNA eliminates the need for cumbersome point-in-time, check-box programs that do little to move the needle on equity.
4. Default to equity
People are dynamic, living organisms. That means DEI will always be a moving target. And that means you need an always-on strategy to eliminate equity gaps in the employee lifecycle.
Here’s an example of DEI being a moving target:
A company like JPMorgan Chase & Co has 750,000 opportunities each year to move toward intersectional gender equity. Consider that:
- JPMorgan Chase & Co has ≈ 250,000 employees in 60+ countries
- The bank, like most companies, makes 3 key decisions per year, per employee:
- How will we pay this person?
2. How will we evaluate their performance?
3. How will we determine their potential for promotion?
That comes out to 750,000 annual talent decisions across their entire organization every year. How can JPMorgan Chase & Co ensure that each decision leads their organization closer to equity, not further from it? With advanced people analytics, that’s how. Tools like machine learning and cloud computing can flip our workplaces from inequity-by-default to equity-by-default.
Think of intersectional gender equity as a continuum. Not a pass or fail. We all fall somewhere along the continuum, and we are all in motion along the continuum. What matters is the direction we move. Bringing clarity to the DEI conversation is one way to help you and your company move in the right direction.