DEI is Not Enough. Companies Need DEIBAJ

Many organizations are implementing DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) programs to provide opportunities to those who have long been overlooked. While these initiatives are a good starting point, they fall short of providing a business with what it needs to be truly inclusive. To reach that goal, their efforts must extend beyond DEI and include Belonging, Accessibility, and Justice (DEIBAJ).

Today, enterprises understand the need to embrace organizational diversity. If a business has nothing but like-minded people on their teams, their thinking is narrow and not likely to be challenged. Teams with diverse members and different work styles, problem-solving techniques, life experiences, backgrounds, perspectives, and skill sets are more likely to innovate.

The numbers back up that thesis. The combination of employee engagement and diversity results in dramatically better financial performance: 46% more revenue and 58% higher net profits.

Consequently, DEI initiatives top the management priority list; however, companies also recognize that these programs are falling short of their goals. Why? One reason is they are not broad enough.  To understand the limitations, let’s take a look at what each element entails.


Diversity Focuses on Representation

Diversity typically focuses on the problem of under representation. Many different groups make up the nation and the world, but in most corporations, not all are represented in the employees and even more so among the managers. Diversity focuses on changing hiring practices, so enterprises more accurately reflect the communities in which they operate and serve.

Companies start by measuring the makeup of their workforce and looking at employee demographics, such as age, gender, parental status, race or ethnicity, veteran status, and sexual orientation. Business then identify which groups are underrepresented, take steps to boost their representation, and measure the impact of their new programs.


Equity Emphasizes Impartiality

Equity is the quality of being fair or impartial and fair, according to Merriam Webster. In the workplace, equity typically refers to opportunities and metrics where every employee is judged equally, consistently, and fairly. 

Managers/management have not been good at reaching this goal because they tend to identify with those individuals most like themselves. As a result, their employment practices create disparities among groups, with some people gaining an advantage based on skin color, ethnicity, wealth, family, power, and prestige. Workers with equal or in some cases, more ability do not get the same chances to advance as that group. Equity seeks to understand where shortcomings are in the workplace and take steps to change criteria, redistribute resources, and achieve equal outcomes.


Inclusion is About Actions

Inclusion in the workplace is about the actions and behaviors companies take to create a culture in which employees feel valued, trusted, and authentic. In an inclusive environment, everyone is encouraged to contribute fully, so they and the business thrive.


DEI Goals Established, but Objectives Not Met

While DEI initiatives have noble goals, they have largely not met their objectives. One problem is the focus on one identity group, such as Black employees. As a result,  others in the firm sometimes think their advancement comes at the cost of their own group’s career interests and workplace well-being. As a result, they become defensive and sometimes combative rather than collaborative 

As you see, DEI helps start building a foundation for equitable workplaces but by itself is insufficient to reach that goal. Additional steps are needed, and a good place to begin is expanding corporate inclusion objectives.


Belonging is a Vital Human Characteristic

Belonging is a strong innate feeling. Humans have an inherent, vital need to feel like they are part of something greater than themselves. In fact, psychologists rank the need to belong on par with the need for love as a basic human desire.

Individuals often cause pain to others by their words and actions. To protect themselves, people put up barriers, so communication becomes more difficult. Psychological safety only occurs when you feel like you belong.  Belonging centers on one’s physical, emotional, and psychological safety and creates the feeling of being welcomed, accepted, and psychologically safe with those around you.

At work, belonging provides people with a feeling of community with coworkers and the workplace, so you feel welcomed when you walk in the door.  When others will give you the benefit of the doubt, one feels psychologically safe. You can be vulnerable with others and be who you are — which, in turn, helps you connect with others. 

As a result, challenging questions are asked, and issues dealt with openly and without fear. The psychological safety fashions high-performing teams, where members build, learn, and grow together. They push back against the status quo and innovate.

To create a culture of belonging, companies start with conversations that emphasize the staff’s shared humanity and include everyone in the discussion. The goal is to build bridges among groups and forge greater empathy and inclusion, especially for those that are most marginalized in the workplace today. Because the need to belong is universal and fundamental, emphasizing these areas has the power to draw in the whole workforce, even those who might feel excluded from — or threatened by — such conversations.


Accessibility Needed for Workplace Resources

Traditionally, workplace accessibility focused on the idea of physical access to company resources. Those traits remain, but the term encompasses more. The idea of companies creating barriers for employees does have a physical component and laws falling under the ADA standard,  which outlines over items like

  • Doors: the standard delineates items, like length, weight, and level accessibility, such as
    automatic doors, and include buttons that also must be accessible.
  • Desks and tables: here, specifications focus on areas, like height and adjustability.
  • Hallways: hallways must be wide enough to allow comfortable passage. Floor coverings
    cannot impair mobility devices. Ramps must have a safe slope percentage and handrails
    must be available wherever required by code.
  • Installing textured floor mats that distinguish between areas of the office, so the
    employees navigate more easily.
  • Enable employees requiring items, like guide dogs or other aids that help them in their
    everyday life, to use them in the office.

In addition, companies need to make corporate information available to everyone.

  • Screens and Digital Displays: they must be large enough and stationed strategically well enough, so they are safe, accessible, and visible to all.
  • Wayfinding: Wayfinding signs need to cater to everyone and therefore in addition to written information, include tactile wayfinding (braille lettering) and graphical cues so employees and guests freely maneuver.
  • Materials: Much of the work done in companies nowadays is handling digital information, so it needs to be in a format that everyone is comfortable with.  Some steps include providing screen reader technology and establishing a corporate policy that any text, graphs, or images support alt text, so individuals with sight or hearing problems can work with them


Justice Requires Action

Justice involves an examination of corporate business processes and how they impact not only employees but also the local community and the world. The process starts with outlining the company’s core values and then finding ways to support these ideals.  

Businesses have local communications, such as newsletters and intranets that distribute information to employees. Informing and inspiring employees comes in the various forms, blog posts, email newsletters, social media posts, or any other medium used to communicate with your audience.  In these items, you can note local programs and events occurring that have social justice themes.

Finally, businesses can speak with their pocketbooks and provide financial support to enterprises that align with your core beliefs. You can partner with an organization whose work centers on an area that you are passionate about.  You can use your platform to inform your audience, raise awareness, and assist with generating donations for the partner organization.  In this way, you become involved but do not reinvent the wheel, duplicate efforts, or waste time.


How to Implement DEIBAJ

Once a company embraces these concepts, they need to incorporate them into the organization. The first step is gaining top management’s approval and buy-in, not just a sign off but a firm and active commitment. Employees follow their leader’s example, so these individuals must not only mouth platitudes about the value of DEIBAJ but also confront their own preconceived notions in this area and then invest sufficient time, money, and effort into new business processes, so they foster corporate change.

Make sure your company’s mission, vision and values support your organization’s brand identity. Review your policies and procedures, check your hiring and retention activities, and survey your employee experience and satisfaction.

Talking about social issues in spaces or cultures that are grappling with their deep entrenchment and have varying degrees of awareness about the issues and the steps needed to address them can be challenging. Finding common ground begins with open discussions and an attitude to make corrections. Then, a corporation must create an environment where everyone feels welcome, so they freely and willingly participate.

Next, the hard work of identifying the business’ strengths and weaknesses come into focus. Eventually a blueprint emerges with concrete objectives, and metrics to track progress.  A full culture audit and strategic plan may help in this area.

A lack of inclusion prevents businesses from realizing their potential nowadays. Understanding its position begins with a self-evaluation and leads to an action plan designed to close gaps. By embracing DEIBAJ, organizations not only remove barriers preventing underrepresented individuals from contributing but also create a foundation capable of supporting a viable business; a vital trait needed nowadays as worldwide competition continually intensifies.

Let us help you create culture change in your organization! Contact True Synergy at [email protected].

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True Synergy, Inc