DEI: What’s Old Is New Again – by Susan McCuistion

The last few years seem to have been challenging for many people, myself included. Last year, I had the privilege to take a bit of a sabbatical. Even though I found it difficult to fully pull myself away from my work, I was removed enough that when Deborah Levine, Editor in Chief for this publication, asked the Advisory Council members to write on upcoming trends, I felt a little out of touch. I decided I needed to catch up a bit, and I started my research. Much to my dismay, I felt like the more things changed, the more they remained the same. I wasn’t seeing much different than what colleagues and I talked about over 20 years ago. People were still focused on hiring and attraction and leadership development. Some spoke of developing business cases and strategies around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)—or whatever form it’s currently taking.

Frankly, I had hoped we had a lot of this figured out by now.

I decided to survey some trusted colleagues to get their perspective on trends. Their responses were similar to what my research showed. As I reflected further, I realized that all of these—leadership, strategy, training—are foundational for the success of DEI in organizations.

As we look forward to 2023, perhaps it’s time to look at the foundations of DEI to ensure they are solid, and the tenets are still good. Here are a few things to ponder with these old, but new again, trends:

1) Leadership support is critical.

Nothing happens in an organization without the support of leadership. Unfortunately, cancel culture and our polarized environment have left some leaders fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing, so instead, they do nothing. Worse yet, senior leaders might be under the impression that since some progress has been made, the work is done. None of this is acceptable to employees. A Deloitte study showed 71% of survey respondents would rather work for a company whose leadership showed consistent inclusive behaviors over working for an organization with high-quality DEI programming.

“I see more pushing and less nudging towards senior leaders to walk the talk and put actions behind their words. Some appropriate changes have occurred since the global racial reckoning of 2020, but corporations have stopped short of the transformation that’s needed to achieve equity and true inclusion. I think senior leaders (VPs, Directors, even members of the C-suite) are STILL afraid to speak up freely about this and aren’t fully living into DEI being a crucial value to their organizations. Coaching and allowing senior leaders to practice and hold themselves accountable to and with their teams is a focus of ours in 2023.”
~ Rebecca Parrilla, Director of Content& Research, Language and Culture Worldwide Language & Culture Worldwide (LCW)

2) DEI is a business strategy, not an initiative.

DEI is still viewed by far too many as an “initiative,” which gives the impression it is optional. “Diversity” just means “difference.” By default, our world, and our workplaces, are diverse. How companies and institutions respond to this diversity determines not only whether they can attract and retain talent, but also how innovative and creative they are. DEI positively affects the bottom line of companies, and as such, is an imperative that is part of, not apart from, other business objectives.

“Companies are still asking questions about what is being done to promote DEI within the organization. And while DEI remains on the agenda, there is less urgency than two years before when momentum from external forces underscored the importance. Going into 2023, senior leaders will need to be aware of and understand the concrete activities to feel the DEI efforts are progressing. Communication is key (as always), and this requires strengthening the partnership between DEI, Communications, and Marketing. Why? Because a successful strategy will have an internal workforce/business focus as well as an external client/customer/consumer focus. Leaders need to see how they are aligned.”
~ Andrea Wicks Bowles, Senior Consultant, Language and Culture Worldwide Language & Culture Worldwide (LCW)

3) Educating around skills and behaviors versus shame and blame.

While diversity isn’t optional, equity and inclusion—the EI of DEI—are. DEI as a strategy implies there are skills we can learn and competencies we can develop to build more equitable and inclusive workplaces, schools, and communities. Furthermore, there are measurement tools which help us have a better understanding about how we think about our commonalities and differences.

I’ve long been a proponent of changing how we train in our field, and I was privileged to be taught and mentored by people who value cultural competence. There’s certainly a time and a place for all types of training around specific DEI topics, but cultural competence is still relatively undervalued or unknown. It is time we level up and understand how we are all connected and our roles in contributing to the ongoing state of things.

There is a “need for linking intercultural competence & DEIB work. Recent research has found a clear overlap in the construct of Inclusion as a learnable competency… The methods of identifying and developing inclusion competencies are fertile for exploration, but are promising. [Furthermore, there is] the need/value of moving beyond blame/drain or whine/pine interventions. The resistance to work grounded in such judgmentally focused work is meeting more and more resistance and is even counterproductive.”
~ Chris Cartwright, MPA, EdD, Inclusion, Intercultural, & Global Competence Assessment Consultant

While we have made some improvement to DEI over the years, the strides haven’t been as great as many hoped. Let’s take time in 2023 to make the foundational work trendy again.

Susan McCuistion

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