“Why” is a common theme on the career.place blog. “Why” is the trick to refining job requirements and identifying transferable skills. It drives prioritization and selection of initiatives, technologies, and candidates. It’s behind creating exciting job descriptions. It’s what brings meaning to our work.
“Why” is so critically important to so many aspects of what we do. And yet, we often skip the most fundamental “Why” question of any DEI effort.
“Why do we want Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?”
Without a strong and sincere answer to this simple question, everything else becomes destined to fail.
What is it to be strong and sincere?
Here’s a hint, the answer is not “it’s the right thing to do.”
“The right thing to do” is not the right thing to do
Of course, DEI is ‘the right thing to do’ for many reasons. It breaks glass ceilings and disrupts cycles of inaccessibility and inequity. It builds stability in communities, enables deserving people, broadens access to wealth which has impact to societal health, safety, and success.
It is, no doubt, the right thing to do.
The problem is that ‘right thing to do’ is rarely a priority for an organization unless it is the stated mission of that organization.
Businesses exist to create product and/or services to generate revenue which sustains and/or grow their workforce. They do not exist to “do the right thing”. It doesn’t mean that there are not a lot of fantastic businesses doing fantastic things, but their priority must align to the purpose of the business to survive.
That means, anything that does not directly drive their business cannot be a priority and will only get attention when there is a surplus of money and resources and time.
DEI programs justified with ‘the right thing to do’ are often condemned to side projects fueled by surplus resources and budget. And how often do you find all those hours and money just lying around?
For DEI to be prioritized and taken seriously, it can’t just be the right thing to do. It must be the right thing to do for business.
“The right thing to do for business”
Elevating DEI initiatives from ‘nice to have’ side projects to ‘must have’ business-driving programs require aligning the ‘why’s with the goals and needs of the organization.
This generally means one or more of three things:
Revenue: how will the effort allow us to make more money and/or profit?
Cost: how will the effort save us money or resources?
Risk: how will the effort reduce our risk of lawsuit, negative press, or costly problems?
So how can the very human endeavor of DEI translate to the cold corporate language of revenue/cost/risk?
Here are a few:
“How do I know it works? I’m not just the president, I’m also a client.”
In the 80s, a commercial for HairClub featured the president of the company with a full head of hair talking about the product. As the commercial comes to an end, an image of him with thinning hair pops up on screen and he reveals he knows the product works because he uses it.
The commercial led to booming business.
To best meet your customer needs, you must know and understand them. To best communicate that what you have to offer is what your customers need and want, you must ‘speak their language’.
That means understanding how your customers experience the world, what they care about, what challenges they face, and what drives their behavior. And the best way to truly know and understand is to have similar experiences, passions, challenges, and drives. To not cater to the customer, but to be one.
Who are your customers or members or clients? Who will be your future customers?
“Wait, why are we jumping?”
Sometimes the question is not “how high?”, it’s “why are we jumping at all?”
People with similar backgrounds, experiences, personal and professional paths, will tend to draw similar conclusions and see challenges in similar ways. Those experiences can be valuable as the team knows exactly how high to jump to get over a specific hurdle, along with how fast they need to run before they jump and how long a runway they need. Or, in a more practical example, they may know exactly how many cold calls are required to build the sales pipeline, how long it will take to code a feature, or how to spin a damaging news story.
However, with diversity the team gets something new – different perspectives. With diversity of background, experience, paths, approaches, etc., teams will have new ways to navigate challenges and opportunities. New methods of building a pipeline or ways to avoid the bad story in the first place.
Why is this so important?
Effectively managing challenges and navigating opportunities is what allows organizations to remain competitive, relevant, and desirable. New ideas and approaches are so critical to the success of any organization, it’s often at the core of vision statements, mantras and marketing material – we call it INNOVATION.
Does your organization value innovation, relevance, and being competitive?
“No shirt, no shoes, no problem.”
When people don’t feel welcome, liability mounts.
Have you ever had a negative, discriminatory experience with an organization – as a customer, candidate, or employee? What are the chances you will do business with that organization again? What are the chances you told someone and impacted their interactions with that organization?
Negative experiences spread and can cost the organization money, business, negative press, etc. EEOC / OFCCP complaints, discrimination lawsuits, negative press, boycotts, bans, etc. You don’t have to look hard to find examples of organizations that have dominated headlines with discrimination claims.
How do you protect your organization from such liability?
Diversity, of course.
In addition to diversity being the outcome of practicing the inclusive, equitable practices that are lacking in the organizations facing these challenges, diversity feeds awareness and empowers companies to be even more inclusive and welcoming. Just as diversity drives understanding of customers (see first point), it drives understanding of employees, which allows you to better attract, engage, and retain that talent.
How much is it worth for your organization to avoid the liabilities of discrimination?
Bringing it all together
While having a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce and culture is ‘the right thing to do’, it is far more than that. DEI is the right thing to do for business. It drives revenue through innovation, creative problem solving, and customer understanding. It reduces costs and liability through attracting, engaging, and retaining talent. And it protects against the liability of discrimination.
By starting with the ‘why’ of DEI for your organization, you will transform your DEI initiatives from nice to have side projects to prioritized efforts core to the health of your business.