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Big DEI changes starts with a single step



Imagine what it would have been like if the first math class you ever took introduced calculus or the first science class jumped into quantum mechanics or the first book you were ever handed was Shakespeare.


That is absurd!


No one can learn calculus without first learning numbers and how to add and subtract them. No one can learn quantum mechanics without first understanding the basics of particles and motion, and no one can understand Shakespeare without first learning the letters and how to read.


To skip to advanced topics without first learning and mastering the basics would not only set kids up for complete failure, but it would also likely set them up to hate topics that may have otherwise become their passion.


The concept is absurd.


So… why do organizations use such absurd tactics with DEI initiatives (or any other initiatives, for that matter)?


When planning DEI programs, don’t start with the large, advanced topics. Set your organization and your employees up for success by starting with the foundation.


Lesson from school lessons – building excellence one small step at a time


“Dee…. Duh, Duh, Duh, Dee. D is for dog. Dog. Dog. Dog.”


Kids repeat after their teacher in an unharmonious chorus. They sing about dogs, draw dogs, write the word dog over and over.


To those who have already mastered reading, this process can feel tedious, repetitive, and annoying. But to those children who are just learning their first letters, something profound is happening. That ‘d’ is transforming from a foreign symbol into a building block connected with sound and shape and meaning. In these moments, these future writers and poets and professionals are gaining the first skills that will eventually become their power and passion.


The secret to these foundational lessons is that they are simple, short, repetitive, with clear meaning and value. They allow for plenty of practice with easy wins to gain confidence and acceptance. And, when the students are ready, they open to the next step - “what other words begin with d”.


Therefore, to transform DEI from a foreign concept to something tangible and actionable with meaning and depth and behavior, take a lesson from these lessons. The first steps to a new DEI program must:

  • Be simple so it’s fast and easy to understand.

  • Enable quick, early wins to build confidence.

  • Allow for proficiency through repetition.

  • Build to the next step.


The first step is SIMPLE


Design the first step of your DEI program to be simple to understand. Have a single, specific, well-defined action and the purpose for that action. Take the time to explain the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’. Just because the ‘what’, ‘why’, and’ how’ may be obvious to you, it doesn’t mean it’s obvious to everyone, especially those at the beginning of the journey.


For example:


What: pre-define the five primary interview questions for a job before interviewing candidates.


Why: To ensure all candidates have the same opportunity to present their skills and abilities during the interview.


How: a 30-minute pre-interview meeting with hiring team to draft and agree on questions.


For example:


What: replace the education requirement for a job with questions that test candidate’s abilities.


Why: Not all potential candidates have access to the same level and type of education but may have accumulated the necessary skills in other ways.


How: 30-minute conversation with the hiring team to identify the skills, abilities, experience they want candidates to have through that education and draft questions to test for those traits directly.


The first step facilitates EARLY WINS


Select a first step of your DEI program for easy success. The goals must be clear, easy to measure, and easy and fast to achieve. Include how these successes will be recognized and celebrated to give participants a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and value for their efforts.


For example:


What: pre-define the five primary interview questions for a job before interviewing candidates.


Goal: Standardize interview scorecard using interview questions to create a direct comparison of candidates.


Measure: speed and clarity of candidate selection using scorecard as compared to previous methods.


Celebration: show team before/after of clarity and speed of selection process, share participant experiences, report up progress with participant acknowledgement.


For example:


What: replace the education requirement for a job with questions that test candidate’s abilities.


Goal: remove inequitable barrier to increase diversity and size of candidate pool.


Measure: diversity, size, and quality of candidate pool as compared to previous methods.


Celebration: show team before/after of candidate pool. Share stories of specific candidates that would have been filtered out by previous requirements, tie back to how teams are now part of the solution for finding great talent while removing inequities.


The first step allows for PROFICIENCY


Design the first step of your DEI program to allow enough time and repetition for your participants to form the desired habit or skill. Choose a step that has multiple discrete opportunities to execute, learn, adjust, and execute again. Build in a process of continuous improvement (covered in Month 10) such as tracking metrics and scheduling check-in meetings, reflective review meetings.


For example:


What: pre-define the five primary interview questions for a job before interviewing candidates.


Opportunities: 20 jobs over the next two months within the department are within scope.


Continuous improvement steps: Over two months:

  • track metrics of speed of candidate selection per job and share bi-weekly

  • 20-min debrief meeting after each job

  • monthly reflective review meetings

  • Survey for comfort and ease of process at mid-point and at the end of two months


For example:


What: replace the education requirement for a job with questions that test candidate’s abilities.


Opportunities: 20 jobs over the next two months within the department are within scope


Continuous improvement steps: Over two months:

  • track metrics of candidate pool size, diversity, quality and share bi-weekly

  • 20-min debrief meeting after each job

  • monthly reflective review-meetings

  • Survey for comfort and ease of process at mid-point and at the end of two months


The first step BUILDS to the next steps


The first step of your DEI program is just that, a first step. This means to build a full program requires momentum which requires more steps. The first step must have a natural progression to future steps, ideally building upon the skills of the first few steps to allow for larger and more impactful steps over time. Define the future possible steps and how the first step enables the workforce to continue the journey.


For example:


What: pre-define the five primary interview questions for a job before interviewing candidates.


Potential future steps:

  • Refine interview questions to increase value and decrease bias and inequities.

  • Train the interviewers on engagement techniques so the question delivery and resulting banter are fair and equitable across candidates.

  • Introduce a standard score card mechanism for evaluating candidates based on the interview.


For example:


What: replace the education requirement for a job with questions that test candidate’s abilities.


Potential future steps:

  • Refine other requirements to remove proxies and replace with testing the underlying skills, abilities, and experiences required for the job.

  • Add candidate anonymity to screening to further reduce bias-triggering information.

  • Expand candidate sourcing to draw in additional talent that meet refined requirements.

  • Introduce internal career building and engagement programs to enable internal mobility by training on identified required skills.


Bringing it all together


When introducing DEI practices into Talent Acquisition or any other area of the organization, start with the basics. Take the time to build a foundation of DEI understanding, skills, and behaviors by starting with small, easily achievable goals and easy wins. This will allow your team to gain the confidence and build momentum that will ultimately become a strong, successful DEI program.

#NoBias #diversityandinclusion


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