Building an Authentic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative: 3 Lessons We Learned

March 24, 2021

Most corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives focus on examining recruitment practices, salaries, raises, types of work, and internal training opportunities, looking for signs of potential disparities between employee demographic groups. These are, of course, important components of any initiative — but if an organization wants to really shift corporate mindsets around DE&I for good, its efforts need to be authentic and effective.

At Achieve3000, we’ve been working hard to bring about authentic change throughout our organization of some 400 employees. Along the way, we’ve learned some valuable lessons about what makes DE&I efforts effective. Here are three of the most powerful steps a company can take for its DE&I initiatives, based on our experience:

1. Create an Employee-Led Committee

At many companies, the HR department is solely responsible for establishing and overseeing DE&I efforts. However, we’ve found that it’s possible to create more buy-in and deepen engagement throughout the organization by allowing employees from across the company to help steer the company’s DE&I goals and activities. Creating an employee-led DE&I committee is a great way to ensure the initiative is inclusive of everyone’s voice while elevating the ethnic and gender diversity that may already be present in the company.

At Achieve3000, we’ve established an employee-led DE&I committed called Community Action for Respect and Equity (CARE). According to Monique Hamilton, Achieve3000’s vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, CARE has already begun to make an impact on corporate culture in its first six months of activity.

For example, the 150 members of the committee have worked with executive leadership to analyze data related to recruitment and hiring. While the company has always been compliant with federal guidelines, CARE still felt we could do better. The committee’s efforts led to the development of a new partnership with the Professional Diversity Network, a diversity recruiting platform that will now distribute our jobs through a network designed to target underrepresented groups.

2. Host Ongoing Conversations About Unconscious Bias

Changing your recruitment process is a great start toward building a more equitable workforce, but you also need to ensure your current culture will respond positively to a more diverse workplace. Open communication about unconscious biases may be uncomfortable at first, but that’s exactly why it’s so important. Ongoing conversations designed to get participants to examine their own predispositions in a safe and non-judgmental environment will help all employees understand the importance of eliminating bias.

Achieve3000’s CARE committee has been hosting monthly conversations since last August, and the employee feedback has been incredibly positive so far.

“I am so thankful to be part of a company that supports and encourages these conversations,” said Erica Spear, a product manager with Achieve3000.

The discussions are hosted by a volunteer committee member, begin with a presentation from a guest speaker, and conclude with a facilitated dialogue about how bias impacts people’s lives. Employees can get to know each other better while having open, honest conversations about the ways in which race, religion, and gender intersect with the workplace.

3. Develop Meaningful Partnerships

DE&I doesn’t have to be something your company goes at alone. In fact, you can broaden your access to diverse candidates, customers, and communities by partnering with organizations that share your DE&I vision.

For example, Achieve3000 partners with EDU, Inc., to allow high school students to apply to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for free. Achieve3000 also developed a partnership with NABU, a nonprofit organization that publishes and distributes children’s books in multiple languages around the world in other to help more children learn to read in their native languages. Through Achieve3000’s online literacy program, teachers and students can access many of NABU’s original stories.

Not only do efforts like these support the students we serve at Achieve3000, but they are also concrete manifestations of our commitment to DE&I in our organization. This sort of corporate social responsibility work doesn’t just make a difference in the world, but it also strengthens organizational DE&I efforts. Current employees and prospective candidates alike see that Achieve3000’s commitment is genuine, and as a result, they’re more engaged in and excited about our DE&I efforts.

DE&I efforts are challenging and important work. Most companies will not see a finish line; DE&I work is never truly over. However, by sticking to their goals, companies can create more equitable opportunities for current employees, potential candidates, and the communities they serve. Social change requires all of working together.

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