An effective DEI strategy must start with strong signals from the C-suite, HR leaders say

National HR



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Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.

“Isn’t this a human resources issue?”

“Great idea, it won’t work here.”

Participants routinely toss out these statements at Tracy Brown, a U.S.-based authorand consultant, during her diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training sessions.

She says it’s unfair for organizations to expect those facilitating conversationsaround DEI to field participants’ objections to it.

“Don’t put your trainer in the position of having to prove the organization’scommitment to the DEI initiative,” writes Ms. Brown in the Executive DiversityServices, Inc. blog. “Always have an internal leader or someone who is a knownauthority introduce the session. If you can’t have a senior leader at every session, usea video recording from the CEO or other key leader to explain why the training isimportant to the organization.”

A recent Canadian survey echoes Ms. Brown’s viewpoint on why it’s vital DEI effortsstart at the top.

The study by the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR) Canadareveals while DEI initiatives require strong commitment from the C-suite, theaccountability and success of the programs rests across the organization.

“Through the survey, we wanted to empower our members with the rightinformation to implement an authentic and sustainable DEI initiative at theirorganizations,” Anthony Ariganello, chief executive officer of CPHR Canada, said toThe Globe and Mail. “Having an effective DEI initiative can lead to increasedemployee satisfaction, improved sense of belonging, higher morale and engagement,increased job satisfaction, access to broader talent pools, reduced turnover costs andultimately, higher retention rates.”

Mr. Ariganello said the absence of a sound plan can result in significant costs toorganizations. Seventy per cent of HR leaders polled reported their organizationsrisked creating homogeneity or group think, 61 per cent admitted to losing access tothe best talent and 55 per cent reported losing good employees because of ineffectiveDEI plans.

The paradox

Early on, many organizations believed hosting mandatory DEI and sensitivitytraining for their employees would help, but Harvard University professor FrankDobbin and Alexandra Kalev, an associate professor of anthropology and sociologyfrom Tel Aviv University, say anti-bias training doesn’t reduce bias, alter behaviouror change the workplace. It has the opposite effect.

“Employers mandate training in the belief that people hostile to the message will notattend voluntarily, but if we are right, forcing them to come will do more harm thangood,” the academics say in their study.

In her book DEI Deconstructed, Lily Zheng calls out DEI practitioners and says DEIefforts during the last decade or so have failed because “intentions do not equalimpact.”

In a podcast about her book, Ms. Zheng said she often meets senior leaders who areskeptical about the “larger idea of DEI as an industry,” and when probed [the leaders]would say, “meritocracy matters a lot to me.”

“I would then tell them, great, help me understand to what extent you have ameritocracy in your team, in your organization,” Ms. Zheng said in an interview.“Help me break down these processes, policies and practices. Tell me how it’sworking or not. Because if you really do care about meritocracy, I think you want tomake sure that it is a true meritocracy. Wouldn’t it be really undermining if what youthought was a meritocracy wasn’t?”

Ms. Zheng writes DEI plans fail because leaders often misjudge the time, money andeffort needed to advance DEI. Also, DEI efforts often start with employees launchingresource groups, but without buy-in from senior leaders, these efforts fizzle.

Elements of a robust plan

Mr. Ariganello of CPHR Canada said organizations must ensure their DEI strategy is aseamless extension of the company’s mission, vision and values. Next, the plan mustbe robust, inclusive and engage all employees and senior leadership must regularlyreview and measure progress.

“The execution of the DEI strategy cannot be performative,” he said. “It needs to beembedded in the very fabric of the culture. At times, it may feel like the organizationis taking two steps back and one step forward. That is because a proper DEI strategyis always evolving and at times requires adaption, pivoting and flexibility.”

DEI done right

Naz Kullar is the director of people and culture with the Trotman Auto Group, anautomotive dealer with 11 dealerships across British Columbia with more than 650employees. She said over the past three-and-half years the company has beenformalizing its DEI plan even though they have been adhering to the principles.

The company has embedded DEI practices and principles in its recruitment andonboarding efforts and measures outcomes using an HR dashboard, she said.

“This dashboard, that my team and I introduced in 2021, provides quarterly updatesto leadership with a focus on hires, terminations, turnover and DEI by location and asa group with real-time metrics,” Ms. Kullar said. “This allows us to pivot, adapt andremain flexible in our focus.”

What I’m reading around the web

Our obsession with “always on” culture may be undermining our productivity,instead we need to disconnect and let our mind wander in order to domeaningful work, notes this article in Entrepreneur.

In his Leadership Freak blog, leadership and management expert Dan Rockwelllists seven ways to make meetings better. His recommendations include startingmeetings on time, declaring its purpose and ensuring meetings go beyond merediscussions.

A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developmenthighlights that more than 27 per cent of white collar jobs in wealthy countries arein sectors where artificial intelligence could replace many human workers.