By Maurice McDavid and James Davis

Best laid plans always fall victim to implementation. The culture of an organization is the soil from which processes (and products, and services) grow. How people relate to one another, how they communicate, how it feels to operate under the same roof… these things can make or break a business. No amount of talent can overcome issues of trust, pessimism, and organizational discontent.

Experts in this space unanimously agree that shared purpose and organizational trust are key components of healthy culture. Instead of poring over the research, all you need to do is consider the opposite: a workplace where everyone has their own agenda, where relationships are coiled in distrust and skepticism. This is why businesses invest heavily in culture development, leadership development, and visibility processes.

Do you agree that this work is important? Of course you do. Then I’ll share something that has become blatantly obvious: you cannot have conversations around company culture without including a conversation in DEI.

Here’s something that’s blatantly obvious: you cannot have conversations around #culture without including a conversation in #DEI … forget your misconceptions. Think #trust. Think #belonging.

So why isn’t your company doing effective DEI work? There are clearly hurdles. Some people are more receptive than others. And to be fair, consultants approach this work in different ways. We take a thoughtful approach. After countless culture and leadership development engagements, here are the top three misconceptions about DEI that we have encountered.

Top 3 Misconceptions

DEI is not about blaming people. When the topic of DEI arises, people might immediately go on the defense. Body language changes, you can almost feel it in the room. But don’t worry! DEI work is not about blaming. You should not feel bad if you’re white, male, able-bodied, cis-gendered, or any permutation thereafter. This is not about blame. This work is about visibility. It is about seeing, often for the first time, the challenges and concerns of all people in an organization.

Have you ever had to think hard about how you are going to get to your next meeting, one floor above you? Probably not. Unless you travel via wheelchair, then think about this all the time. It occupies brain space, it requires cognitive bandwidth, executive functioning, and time. Visibility through a DEI process includes shining a light on this need, not blaming the able-bodied for taking the stairs. If we say that every person within an organization matters, then we have to mean it. Fear of being blamed for issues should not – cannot – stand in the way.

DEI is not code for ‘Race Talk’. Is race an essential component of DEI work? Absolutely. But that is not the full story and does not capture the heart of our approach. They key word in our approach to DEI is belonging. This work is intended to be inclusive. We believe that everyone in the organization matters. We will have to confront systems that were predicated upon race, but that also applies to gender, language, socio-economic status, perceived intelligence, sexuality, and every variation of the human condition that one can imagine.

What we are talking about is people. In a business setting, we are talking about making sure our people feel like they belong. Reflect on your space. Are people or systems unintendedly chipping away at that sense of belonging? at a sense of organizational trust? Let’s have the confidence to address that with honesty and care. This work is about far more than race, it is about people.

DEI work does not aim for uneven distributions of power, given now to people of color or other marginalized groups. This work is not about limiting freedoms and successes by dramatically tipping the scale in some other direction. It is about balancing that scale. We have found that this concept is difficult to conceptualize without fear. It is hard for people who have only know a system of oppression to believe a system can exist without an oppressed group. Folks in business are always talking about win-win situations. We are always considering best possible outcomes, efficient process, positive relationships and healthy workplace environments. We’re still talking about that.

DEI does not describe “Robin Hood” work, stealing from the ‘rich’ to give to the ‘poor’ – it’s about taking a more thoughtful approach to how support and resources are distributed. It is about coming to terms with, and being honest about, how things have been done and how we want things to look moving forward.

Moving Forward

Every DEI consultant has their own approach to this work, fair enough. It is possible that the movement has unintentionally polarized certain groups. Ok. Well, here we are. What are we going to do about that? The top three misconceptions about this work have been addressed. If there are any other concerns, please do REACH OUT to us.

Beyond that, what is holding you back? You cannot have conversations around company culture without including a conversation in DEI. So start the conversation in your organization. We do this work every day and would be happy to help.

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