Real change starts with remembering there’s an “I” in D&I.
Here are five ways we can each step up our own accountability while helping to eliminate roadblocks to diversity and inclusion at our own organizations:
1. Budget for action.
“We’re in an interesting place,” says Aerial Ellis, Ed.D., a consultant and PR professor at Lipscomb University. “Rising awareness is good and so is a growing understanding that business leaders must now respond to racial justice.”
The problem? “That doesn’t mean D&I initiatives are being implemented,” she says. “We need to keep pushing our organizations to take action.”
The first step is allocate budget and resources to D&I.
“Earmarking $3,000 for training isn’t enough,” Ellis says. “It has to be part of a strategic plan executive over 12-18 months—and training and hiring are just the first steps.”
2. Push transparency.
Ellis confirms that there’s a diversity deficit in communications.
She recently conducted a study on intercultural competence and found that only 6% of communicators are African-American, according to U.S. census data.
Then there’s the fact that diversity fades as you move up the corporate ladder. “We’re usually in the mid- to low-level positions, even on the agency side,” she says.
The solution is to hire and promote more people of color, right? Ellis says it’s more complicated than that.
“Organizations also need to make their hiring and promotion processes more transparent,” she says. “Then they need to make the executive level more welcoming and comfortable for minorities. That takes time and education.”
Discover more D&I best practices in our ”Diversity & Inclusion for Communicators” virtual workshop Thurs., Aug. 13 with speakers from Lipscomb University, Lamar University, MetLife, E.W. Scripps Co., Frankfurt/Kurnit/Klein & Selz.
3. Counter fear.
Roadblocks to inclusion are deeply ingrained. They include racist policies, leaders not asking the tough questions, a desire to maintain the status quo—and fear.
“That might be one of the biggest,” she says. “There’s a misunderstanding that D&I is a threat—that it’s a policing process that means you’ll now be held accountable.”
The solution might surprise you.
“It’s all about vulnerability and starts at the top,” says Ellis. “D&I won’t move ahead if you assign it to a mid-level person. Instead, pair that person with a C-suite exec who is comfortable being uncomfortable. This leader has to be honest about blind spots and willing to share notes with others.”
She also recommends creating safe place to communicate about the “tough stuff.” This generally takes the form of an inclusion committee.
4. Factor in fun.
Ellis avoids using the word “training” when discussing D&I. She prefers “education” and “professional development.”
“You can counter a lot of worry around D&I by building it out as a fun internal campaign,” she says. “Calling it ‘professional development’ helps take away the threat. It also makes people feel comfortable and competent discussing inclusion issues when moving up or out of the organization.”
5. Be human.
Ellis warns against becoming enamored with unconscious bias self-assessments and online D&I widgets, because they don’t tell the whole picture.
“I always tell groups to just be human,” she says. “Grab a pen and paper and say, ‘Yes, I’ve got these flaws and blind spots that I want to do something about—but I also have these privileges and cultural capital that I want to leverage for good.’”
It’s as simple as looking at your strengths and using them to help someone of color.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t improve yourself,” Ellis says. “Read and participate in conversations about inclusion online. Ask questions of people who don’t look like you. Be curious. Care. Empower someone.”
Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and event producer. Discover more D&I best practices in this upcoming Ragan Training virtual workshop: Thurs., Aug. 13: “Diversity & Inclusion for Communicators” (speakers with Lipscomb University, Lamar University, MetLife, E.W. Scripps Co., Frankfurt/Kurnit/Klein & Selz).