Culture, Not Just Training: A Holistic Approach to DEI

Efforts aimed at building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace often begin in the training room. Unfortunately, experience tells us that the attempt often ends there. Even the best DEI leader’s efforts will be thwarted if the organization only views their DEI strategy through the lens of employee training and development. For a DEI plan to succeed, the organizational culture must change. And that requires a holistic approach. Let’s talk about what that means, some of the roadblocks, and some tactics your organization can try to make your DEI goals a reality.

What Is A Holistic Approach to DEI?

When I think of a holistic approach to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive work culture, I consider all of the human processes that DEI touches, and everyone who makes those processes happen. This goes beyond improving DEI efforts from the two typical functions that most people think of: talent acquisition and employee training. Are all of the organization’s processes and systems offering everyone access to the same opportunities? Does the organization’s stated commitment to a diverse workforce reflect in every level of the organization, and are the employees participants and stakeholders in the efforts to bring about change? And does every employee feel comfortable being their true self in the break room as well as at their desk? A holistic approach means that every aspect of the work culture is examined, and that every employee, from interns to the C-Suite, is an active participant in making the culture a diverse, equitable and welcoming one. 

What Gets In The Way?

More often than not, the culture is the problem. Hiring for “culture fit” has become the norm, but that typically equates to maintaining the status quo. It’s only natural to want to work with people we like and who are like us; after all, we spend a good chunk of our lives interacting with our co-workers. The problem, of course, is that culture fit is a mirror of our biases. We’re most comfortable around those who share our demographic and socioeconomic identities. Creating that homogeneity starts with recruiting, and is reinforced in overt ways (i.e., a lower percentage of women in the organization rising to managerial positions) and subtle ones that also affect an individual’s success in the company (the team member who is uncomfortable joining his colleagues for a post-work Happy Hour, because his faith forbids drinking alcohol). Gravitating towards people like us is called the affinity bias, or as I like to call it…the Mini-Me bias. We are more comfortable with people who are like us, but we should be hiring for cultural enhancement, not culture fit. We should be thinking, what can this person add to our culture instead of whether they will fit into the current culture? 

Holistic DEI Tactics

When thinking about a holistic approach to your DEI efforts, look for opportunities beyond your recruitment efforts and your DEI training. Here are some tactics:

  • Focus on objective competencies when considering candidates for promotion, and make sure that employees know these criteria. “Leadership” often equates to “likability” – and again, that’s colored by our biases. 
  • Consider formally engaging your employees by forming DEI “councils”. Get their feedback on all aspects of the organization, from hiring processes to benefits to work-sponsored social events, and look for opportunities to turn that feedback into tangible action.
  • Consider launching cross-departmental mentorship programs. Give senior leadership the opportunity to interact with and help develop employees’ skill sets and internal networks, to help them grow and succeed in the organization. Do not let mentors gravitate towards a mini version of themselves. Ask them to push themselves out of their comfort zone. 

A holistic approach to DEI requires thinking outside of the box. But the results are worth the effort and the impact of your culture will be to make it more inclusive and dynamic.

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I’m Dr. Sangeeta Gupta, and I founded Gupta Consulting Group to help CDOs and HR leaders create and implement DEI programs that meet their organization’s unique needs. 

Schedule a conversation with me today to learn more about our DEI solutions.

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