As this article is being written, the front-page headline in the New York Times reads, “Former Louisville Officer Is Indicted in Breonna Taylor Case”. It portends a long night of unrest in Kentucky.

In a year defined as much by Black Lives Matter protests as a global pandemic, we are as a society rising up against the inequality and exclusivity that have long characterized our social systems. Organizations have been reacting with statements of support, pledges to evolve, and action leading to change.

Many are, for the first time, considering a new role in their organizations: Chief Diversity Officer. Such a role demonstrates a commitment to move beyond passive statements, take strategic action against racism, and foster more inclusive ethnic, gender and ability diversity within their organizations. The role alone cannot solve problems, however. It must be supported by a budget, talent, and sustained commitment.

For some organizations, a role solely dedicated to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) may not be an option. But that does not mean your organization can’t take significant and immediate steps towards becoming a fully inclusive, anti-racist organization.

Six steps towards EDI

1.    Start with a redefined EDI

The very definition of EDI needs reworking. We will expand on this further in our next article, but the main thrust of an evolved definition is to include the idea of ability. All too often, the rights, feelings and practical requirements of differently-abled people in the workplace are treated as an afterthought. This results in having to accommodate for differently-abled people after the fact, because their practical and emotional needs were not accounted for in initial EDI planning. Organizations must also abandon words like “disabilities” and “disabled”, which are inherently exclusive and discriminatory. These simple actions will help us all cognitively rewire the notion of EDI to seamlessly include differently-abled people.

2.    Look to your brand

Consider the corporate values you’ve identified in your organization’s brand strategy. Do they point towards EDI as defined above? They may not need to state equity, diversity and inclusion overtly, but they do have to support those notions in order to facilitate actions in their service. What about your organization’s personality traits? Do they support storytelling, imagery and behaviours that advance EDI? Does your employer brand promise and provide a culture and experience that are genuinely welcoming and equitable?

This could be an opportune time for you to revisit these characteristics of your brand to ensure your organization is built for EDI at a fundamental level.

3.    Lead with empathy

Whether through personal experience or specific training and workshops, your leaders need to know how it feels to be excluded, forgotten, rejected or left behind. While many of us can remember times when we have been excluded, it is difficult for most to imagine a lifetime of such treatment. Make sure your leadership can connect genuinely with these feelings. Invest in specialized training that illuminates the emotional toll of exclusion.

4.    Culture, not command

Real inclusion is not a mandate issued from your organization’s leadership. Nor is it a hopeful movement that springs magically from your company’s grassroots. Rather, think of EDI as an outcome of a healthy, vibrant corporate culture. Take the time and do the work to ensure you are building a long-term culture that respects and embraces everyone for their differences. Build in ongoing employee training, and design daily actions into the employee experience to ensure everyone is contributing to a culture of genuine belonging.

5.    Count your change

Be specific about what you want to accomplish. Collect and analyse data rigorously, and see how your EDI performance stands up against other organizations. Share data and insights liberally with your organization’s key stakeholders. This will help you maintain transparency, identify issues and act to rectify them. Ensure this is not a one-off activity. Efforts around EDI should be an ongoing commitment that requires constant attention and resources in order to be meaningful and effective.

6.    Reap the rewards

The benefits of ethnic, gender and ability diversity are quantifiable. Research by the American Sociological Review identifies a workplace’s diversity as among the most important predictors of an organization’s sales revenue, customer numbers and profitability. A 2018 study by Accenture, partnering with the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN reported businesses that employ differently-abled people have revenues 28% higher, net income two times more, and profit margins 30% higher. The report also identified that employers who embraced differently-abled employees saw a 90% increase in employee retention.

With their varied life experiences, a diverse workforce brings myriad points of view, insights and specific capabilities to an organization’s challenges and opportunities. This facilitates freer thinking throughout the organization, heightens innovation, and results in more engaged, loyal employees.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of associating with an organization committed to a newly-defined EDI is the feeling of knowing you are part of change that is long overdue and desperately needed around the world. Contributing to EDI can be the greatest source of pride people will ever feel throughout their experience with your brand.