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Embedding SocietaL Change Through DEI

Making Movements Into Mainstream

The past five years have been a time of revelation and rage. We have watched as systemic racism led to the death of George Floyd, and we witnessed the outpouring of grief and anger at the injustice. Some of us may have even joined in the Black Lives Matter protests to ensure our voices were part of the calls to change. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, we have also heard the firsthand trauma caused by sexism, harassment, and sexual abuse. We may have even added our own stories to these pages to strengthen the case for transformation and respect. But after all of this attention and action, what comes next? As business leaders and HR professionals, we are uniquely positioned to ensure these events are not just time-limited movements. Through our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, we have the responsibility and the privilege to turn this anger into action and embed social change into our organizational reality.

The Black Lives Matter Movement

The video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in 2020 is both a curse and a blessing. It is a curse because of the DEI Embeds Social Change awareness it brings of the absolute brutality faced by the victims of racism and the extreme suffering that results. But this awareness, this heartbreak, is also the seed of the blessing. The ability to film such events means we have a shared consciousness of the physical and psychological impacts of systemic racism. We all now understand the destructive nature of racism, and this collective understanding has made action imperative for policymakers in both public and private spheres.

The blessing of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is that leaders everywhere can no longer hide or cover up policies and practices that demean people of different races. Boards and management teams are now expected to provide public evidence of how they are working to reduce racism in the workplace and eradicate all microforms of the aggression we have seen on the news. Whether they like it or not, organizations are being called upon to take a stand on social issues and back it up with cultures that capture real change.

The #MeToo Movement

So often, experiences of sexual harassment are kept behind closed doors. Understandably, this is done out of respect, regard, and the protection of the victim. However, it also protects the perpetrator from public scrutiny and prevents an understanding of the extent of sexual violence. Tarana Burke began using the words Me Too on paper so that girls engaged in her workshops could anonymously indicate they shared the same experience and pain and understand that they were not alone.

Through social media, in 2017, the #MeToo movement catapulted this universal language to the global stage, and we all finally began to comprehend the magnitude of disrespect shown to women. Celebrities from all genres added their stories and voices to the pleas for a revolution of respect.

While retelling stories of abuse would have added to already significant trauma, the bravery of these women has prompted organizations everywhere to reassess the extent to which they condone sexual
discrimination and mistreatment. Leadership teams in politics and business were asked to account for and improve gender diversity and implement effective anti-harassment policies. With around half of the workforce being women, leaders could not ignore the call for change or the implications of continued ignorance. d on social issues and back it up with cultures that capture real change.

The Initial DEI response

Before the #MeToo or BLM movements, the evidence was clear that increased diversity in the workplace led to more significant personal and organizational outcomes. Leaders were already grappling with how to make diversity a reality in their businesses. They were already looking for ways to capture the benefits for their employees and stakeholders. In this way, they were already leading societal change.

However, these movements rapidly escalated the reform of many critical systems and practices that embedded inequity for marginalized and minority groups. Specifically, over the past few years, we have seen the following changes occurring in businesses large and small.

Before the #MeToo or BLM movements, the evidence was clear that increased diversity in the workplace led to more significant personal and organizational outcomes. Leaders were already grappling with how to make diversity a reality in their businesses. They were already looking for ways to capture the benefits for their employees and stakeholders. In this way, they were already leading societal change.

Putting the E into DEI.

Over the last year, we have seen the word ‘equity’ joined into previous diversity and inclusion agendas. This is an important addition as it recognizes that it is not just having people involved that is critical, but they must also be provided with all they need to be their best. Recognizing the need for equity means ensuring barriers are removed and support is provided to enable success.

Removing recruitment barriers.

Numerous organizations have done a comprehensive review of their hiring systems. This includes removing gendered or racialized terms from job descriptions, widening the channels used to seek candidates, and redesigning interviews to ensure candidates are not disadvantaged.

Awareness through training.

Anti-discrimination and harassment training has become expected in the workplace as organizations seek to establish clear boundaries of acceptable behavior and protect the rights of all workers to operate in an environment that is safe physically and psychologically.

Flexible work.

The pandemic accelerated changes that had already begun by providing more staff with the opportunity to balance their home and working lives. Instead of being rare, flexible work practices became mainstream and a valued part of work arrangements that show greater respect and compassion for individual circumstances. It became another way to remove barriers and support all staff to be their best.

Employee Network Groups.

One of the most common diversity programs in the workplace is the establishment of networks or affinity groups. These networks allow employees with shared challenges to come together and provide support and mentoring to each other.

Recognition through roles.

As the complexity of DEI becomes clear, and there is a greater understanding of the long-term commitment required for change, more organizations are establishing permanent DEI roles. LinkedIn reports that the number of diverse roles has increased by 71 percent over the last five years and includes a significant proportion of leadership roles, such as Head of Diversity, Director of Diversity, and Chief Diversity Officer. Ford already had a Chief DEI officer but has now created a new position of Racial Equity Director to focus specifically on racial equity across the organization.


Stakeholders Expect More

In their report on DEI progress, the Sustain Ability Institute outlines the numerous parties placing pressure on businesses to do more in DEI and disclose the effectiveness of their initiatives. The following recognize the role that organizations play in embedding social change and are watching to ensure that leaders take this role seriously:

  • Employees – who bear the brunt of HR policies and procedures. Thanks to the public support garnered from BLM; employees are also becoming increasingly confident to call out discrimination and harassment when it occurs.
  • Regulators – who ensure the implementation of new DEI legislation and standards. They will be keeping a close eye on businesses to ensure they are leading the way on DEI reform.
  • Investors are increasingly looking to ensure organizations with strong DEI outcomes are using their funds. They will be scrutinizing reports to judge the alignment between words and actions from the business leaders.
  • Consumers are looking to align their values with the brands in the marketplace. They will be judging companies for the level of inclusion they foster and for choosing to spend with and be loyal to those who are making real change.

Embedding Change - Next Steps

The past few years have resulted in significant change. However, one could argue that the changes that have been made are just the low-hanging fruit. The impact of changes to laws, policies, and work practices should not be understated, but in a way, these are very much superficial first steps. Truly embedding change now requires a shift to focus on the more subtle aspects of DEI to make sure it is built into the façade but also the foundations.
Embedding DEI calls on all HR professionals and business leaders to take the following next steps.


There are certain DEI expectations and universal policies, such as the right to be free from discrimination and harassment. However, the environment in which this expectation can be implemented can be very different, say for an office in the United States to one in Africa. While the intention and outcomes remain the same regardless of context, its implementation may need to be very different to ensure effectiveness. The next stage of DEI is
to combine global direction with local action. It is to become aware of and appreciate the diversity required in DEI initiatives and caters to the inherent complexity in a localized approach.

Deeper Down Training.

The first wave of DEI initiatives focused on the more overt exhibits of disrespect, such as racist behavior and physical harassment. However, these behaviors are based on subtle and sometimes unconscious thought patterns and beliefs. The next area of focus then must address the underlying contributors and bring greater awareness to such topics as unconscious bias and micro-aggression. Supporting staff to gain a deeper understanding of the drivers of discrimination and its sly manifestations will drive sustainable change.

Widening the Scope.

The next challenge for businesses is to expand their thinking around DEI to all parts of their business. No longer is DEI expected to be considered only in the traditional HR areas of recruitment, learning,` and development. Now leaders must work to embed DEI outcomes into their services, and across the scope of their supply chain. It must investigate how its inputs align with its DEI ideals and how all of its outputs capture its desired outcomes.

Vulnerability and authenticity.

After all the stakeholder expectations have been met, leaders have much more hard work. This is the hard work of being truly open to the current experience of the employees and their families and understanding the barriers and challenges they face. After the death of George Floyd, all of eBay’s leadership team sat with black staff members to understand and learn from their lived experiences. Similar meetings were held in 2021 with Asian/ Pacific Islander employees. For anyone can declare that they are dedicated to DEI. But people can see through a façade. It is a brave leader who can sit with their people’s heartbreak, but it is only by understanding the reality can effective actions be taken to transform it.

Thinking Long Term.

DEI is not a sprint. Sure, compliance reporting and annual disclosures may feel like finish lines, but embedding cultural change takes years. Organizations need to have long-term plans for continual monitoring, review, and improvement in their initiatives. As suggested previously, these reviews need to incorporate the lived experience of the people they are designed to assist. Cultural change is a marathon that requires continual commitment and consistent calls for accountability. External reporting requirements may provide these sporadically, but it is up to the leaders to find the courage to create systems to challenge themselves constantly. 

What This Means For You

I cannot think of a more challenging yet exciting time to be a business leader or HR professional. #MeToo and BLM have created great momentum for change, and you are at the forefront of making the vision of respect for all a reality. Ultimately, you decide your organization’s policies, processes, and procedures and whether they are used to discriminate against or empower people from all marginalized groups. What you do has effects not only on
the lives of your current employees but for generations to come. Your workplace decisions can embed the change that society has been calling for. This is a position of great power and privilege.

This responsibility may seem daunting, and the expectations around DEI are indeed moving quickly. It is hard to keep up with what is required and difficult to know what next steps to take. The great news is that so many people are here to help you rise to the challenge and enable
your people to be their very best.

We can support you to inspire and embed positive change, and we are only a phone call away. If you would like to chat about how we can help you deliver exceptional DEI outcomes, give us a call at (469) 456-7813 or send an email to info@dallasdiversity247.com.

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