The progress of corporate America is determined by the fabric of its workforce, which, in recent years, has been a proponent of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Often abbreviated to DEI, these values mark organizations’ mission to institutionalize practices of accessibility and representation on all levels continually.
Though these missions can certainly be passed off as a trio of buzzwords, their effective and sustainable implementation cultivate environments that better the company culture, work, and individual.
As an incredible advocate of DEI programming across the nation, Janie L. Payne is the Vice President of Administration at Equal Justice Works, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on law careers in public service. With over 15 years of experience in the private, federal, and non-profit sectors, Janie has intuitively led complex system changes within the realm of diversity and inclusion.
In corporate contexts, diversity seeks a wide variety of social and cultural characteristics, perspectives, and personnel experiences. Equity considers existing diversity within workforces and ensures accessibility to uniform treatment, opportunities, and advancement. By acknowledging the differences between individuals, equitable companies aim to identify and remove barriers established by bias and systemic inequality. Lastly, inclusion calls for an atmosphere that enables employees to feel integral to a greater whole, no matter their identity. In combination, the implementation of these values can forge a much safer, more collaborative work environment.
1. In corporate, are diversity, equity, and inclusion just terms used for those in the know?
I think they’re more than terms; I think they are words that should mean something to us as individuals. Not only do they mean something for corporate strategies, but for us as individuals thinking about diversity, and the difference that we bring to the table, then equity is making sure that with that difference, I have the opportunity to realize my potential, it realizes the potential of the individual. And then inclusion is making sure that my voice matters and is heard. So, I look at that, at the individual level, DEI is so meaningful, as we think about our careers and having a meaningful experience in the organizations that we’re in.
2. If we do not have these environments, we have all the makings for a very explosive, toxic culture. Do you disagree? What are your feelings?
Yes, I think definitely. When I look at society now, I would say there is a lot of conflicts, there’s conflict, because it’s sort of, if you win, I have to lose, rather than approaching it from a win-win situation. And I think that could show up in organizations. As individuals, I think, to be prepared and to make sure that we ourselves, the work begins with us. So, how do we develop skills in terms of emotional intelligence and being able to share our perspective, but at the same time, being able to navigate successfully in an environment where our perspective might not be readily embraced if we make a choice to work in that environment, we’re still there? What I’m saying is the ability to deal effectively with conflict and deal effectively with a toxic organization; I think it’s critical for the individual. And then for the organization working to create a culture where people’s differences can be embraced. And that takes work, cultural work, cultural change, and transformation takes work and a strong commitment on the part of the organization.
3. Do diversity, equity, and inclusion work for major corporations and small businesses?
That’s right. And thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion, especially now, we’re at a time where there are very different perspectives about most things. Creating a work environment where every employee can come, and there’s a safe environment to express their ideas, share different perspectives, and create an environment where perspectives can be embraced. I think it’s really critical more than ever before.
4. We are going into these various cultures. How do we best prepare ourselves? Because this diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s ongoing? How do we continue to prepare ourselves to work in these cultures to be at our very best, we bring our very best? What can we do on the outside, coming in? Does that make sense?
Oh, absolutely. I believe it was Rosabeth Moss Kanter who talked about the Change Master. And a Change Master is a person who understands what their goals, their individual goals are and can find ways to align those goals with the company’s goals. So, I think for us to be successful as change agents, whether it be a success in our careers, whether it be a success in what we want to achieve, we need to figure out how strategically we can think about our own goals and objectives, our skills, the things that we want to accomplish ourselves, and how can we complement that environment that we’re in and I think that takes work. I think that takes some deliberate thinking about it. We’re responsible for our careers. Many people go into an organization expecting that organization to navigate their career know, looking for opportunities to grow self-motivation, which I think is key. But I like the term Change Master because we are the architect of our career book. Thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion and leveraging the fact that it’s critical on our corporations’ agenda, our companies today. So, becoming our own expert around that, and being able to dialogue about that, reading about the subject, creating relationships with others that are different from yourself, I think all of those things are important as we think about that navigation of our personal career.
In her experience, environments lacking exposure to and adopting DEI practices often develop explosive, toxic company cultures. Of course, plenty of businesses are generally devoid of diversity, equity, and inclusion, or at the very least, unintentional about or even disinterested in them.
When considering corporate approaches to DEI implementation, it’s helpful to understand its efficacy in addition to its social progress. Not only do 57% of employees and 67% of job seekers value diversity in the workplace, but diverse companies are 70% more likely to attract the attention of a new market audience. While DEI can look good on paper with increases in revenue and higher profits, its practices ultimately foster community, comfortability, and heightened morale among personnel.
She advises that in order to circumvent this kind of destructive turbulence in the workplace, it’s vital to begin internally. Developing sufficient emotional intelligence allows individuals to effectively share their perspectives and successfully navigate any environments that might not readily embrace them. However, the responsibility of instilling these attitudes belongs to business leaders who are passionate about embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion in their respective work environments. Because, in essence, cultural transformations are the only way to affect this kind of change on a company-wide scale.
With that, Payne stresses the importance of organizations being deliberate about those they place in managerial positions. She’s found that a common reason employee eventually leaves an organization is due to a less than satisfactory relationship with their supervisor. If a frontline manager fails to create and perpetuate an atmosphere that supports, includes, and values each employee, their actions reflect on the company’s priorities as a whole. These individuals not only play a part in administering DEI policy within their jurisdiction, but their outlooks have a trickle-down effect on employees.
One-way supervisors can effect positive change in staff is through transparency. By sending messages that communicate an organization’s values–what is important, what is not important, what is paid attention to, what appropriate behavior looks like–business leaders can set clear expectations in maintaining a safe, inclusive environment for every employee, Payne says. This starts as merely creating a DEI statement, which is a written commitment to a certain organization’s values. Beyond this initial commitment, DEI committees hold power to establish, enforce, and develop a policy to better the company.
5. What are your last thoughts on diversity, equity, and inclusion?
I would just say that with diversity, equity, and inclusion, let’s just keep it on the uppermost top of our minds. It is so important; we’re always learning, we’re still learning about difference, we can never achieve all of the information about what difference means. I would say just be open to that as individuals, and I believe if we do so, it will make not only the companies that we’re in better, it’ll make the family environment better. And we’ll feel better as individuals if we open to different perspectives.
Payne advises individuals to recognize the ownership they have as employees, claiming the ownership returns to “us.” Salary, benefits, and promotional opportunities no longer monopolize the focus of workers–individuals work to realize their potential. Of course, this is a much simpler journey when every employee is given equal opportunity and support in their endeavors. The intentional pursuit of diversity, equity, and inclusion in a company returns its constituents’ attention, who are the driving force behind the production, innovation, and progress.