An Equitable Workplace Requires All-Hands on Deck

diversity in leadership equity plan training

We are a country built on the idea that to be successful you must “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” But for far too long, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have disproportionately been the ones pulling themselves up. For generations, they’ve pulled themselves up against cultural and workplace discrimination. 

Even with recent improvements made to workplace diversity, BIPOC still shoulder the burden of breaking down barriers to access workplace sectors with higher salaries, benefits, and growth potential. It is long overdue to shift to a collective approach when it comes to prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. 

We need ALL hands on deck.  

The Current Situation

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “well things are better than they were.” That’s a limiting mindset. True - Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives are more common in organizations than ever before. However, many of these initiatives fail. This is often not due to a lack of good intention but a lack of strategic approach. 

Here’s what we see organizations do most commonly (and how they fall short): 

Employee Resource Group

Employee Resource Groups (ERG) are the perfect example of good intentions gone wrong. The groups were initially designed to foster a community aligned with an organization’s mission, values, goals, practices, and objectives. They are often formed around a shared identity (race, gender, etc.) and operated entirely on a voluntary basis. 

Of course, it’s wonderful for underrepresented employees to find a space to connect with one another and avoid isolation. However, in doing so, ERGs put the work–mental, physical, and monetary–on the backs of historically excluded groups. It isn’t adding more voices to the table; it’s creating a separate table entirely, usually at the cost of an employee’s free time and energy. 

Chief Diversity Officer

The C-suite is growing thanks to DEI efforts. But is it achieving real results? Chief Diversity Officers (CDO) take on the important job of encouraging and championing workplace diversity and equity. Many people–oftentimes a person of color–step into the role full of excitement and determination. They’re ready. They’re passionate.

But they’re also up against a system designed to maintain the status quo. 

It can be too much for one person. Achieving sustainable change takes time and continuous effort. Many CDOs burn out before they’re able to fully make an impact. In fact, the average tenure for CDOs in 2021 was 1.8 years, one-third of the tenure of other C-suite executives. When organizations fail to recognize the complexity of what a CDO does, they are setting that person (and ultimately themselves) up for failure.   

Equity Strategic Plans 

We're seeing more companies highlight their equity strategic plans, which are intended to ensure DEI initiatives are implemented successfully. For example, “Ensure leaders promote the vision for DEI by maintaining an inclusive workplace.”

That sounds pretty good, right? 

It sure does. But how do we get there? Like any plan in business (or life), we too often focus on the end goal without taking the time to carefully prepare and involve all the stakeholders (not just white employees or Black employees) in that planning process. Then, equity strategic plans require regular evaluation to ensure implementation is effective (which can be complicated to coordinate). 

If any of these elements are missing, your plan is more likely to fail or derail lasting change.  

What “All-Hands On Deck” Looks Like

Addressing DEI needs in the workplace–specifically corporate America–is imperative. True, research shows a business-case for prioritizing DEI, such as increased innovation. Highlighting the financial gain of diversifying the corporate workforce can be helpful in getting leadership on board, but at the end of the day, the biggest incentive for implementing DEI initiatives is a human one. 

Being better people leads to better business. But this is not an effort for one person–regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, etc.--to take on alone.  

Now, where do we go from here?

Knowledge & Accountability 

This does not just apply to C-suite executives and management. Everyone must show personal accountability to DEI initiatives. That means all employees at an organization should seek out knowledge regarding the company’s DEI practices, how they can participate, and how the culture can be improved. 

Knowledge is power, and engaging in conversations regarding equity can lay the foundation for successful initiative to create an equitable playing field. 

While the “all-hands on deck” approach requires everyone to participate, company leaders must set the tone and strive to be inclusive in order for the change to trickle down from the top. Inclusive leaders take the time to reflect on their own bias, actively seek other perspectives to inform decision-making, advocate for underrepresented employees, and help to establish a culture where people feel comfortable engaging in these types of conversations.  

Diversity in Leadership

To truly move the needle on equity in the workforce, there needs to be greater diversity in company leadership. Again, it’s easy to say “well things are better than they were.” And again, that is true. According to the National Association of Corporate Directors, 37% of private company boards have appointed a diversity or underrepresented board member in the last year.

Things are better than they were, but that doesn’t mean they are as good as they could be. Sometimes we are just seeing more diverse faces, but realize that the conversations aren’t changing because the voices of these new faces are still stifled and silenced because the culture hasn’t truly “created space” for divergent perspectives that push them outside of their comfort zone.

Nonetheless, by increasing diversity within leadership, companies demonstrate a commitment to building an inclusive culture, as well as inspiring greater trust, loyalty, and confidence from employees. An often overlooked approach to achieving this is developing leaders internally. Provide current underrepresented employees with the resources and opportunities to grow into leadership roles. Most likely, your company already has the potential there. Cultivate it. 

Invest In Company-Wide Training

If a company were to acquire a new software program, they would require employees to go through training. The same should apply to DEI initiatives. It’s new. It’s different. It can be harder than it has to be if no one is properly trained. 

Partnering with DEI professionals allows a fresh set of eyes to look at what you’re already doing and where improvements can be made. Training initiatives can build knowledge and foster inclusive behaviors. The key here is following up with action after training. Accountability after training is critical. This is where the true magic happens.

Looking Ahead

The future is bright–diverse, equitable, and inclusive. 

More organizations than ever before recognize the importance of DEI practices. They are trying something to improve the workplace for BIPOC employees, which ultimately improves the workplace for all employees. Now, it’s time to take a closer look at what’s working and what isn’t in order to take your DEI initiatives to the next level of success. 

It is not up to one person or even one group of people. Change for everyone is only a result of effort by everyone. 

We need all-hands on deck.

Question and Action

The questions below invite you to reflect on the action (or inaction) you and your organization are taking to ensure your DEI initiatives are an all-hands on deck effort. If the answers to these questions leave you with more questions than answers – this is your invitation to take action to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

  • Can you share data on the organization’s diversity?
  • How do you celebrate diversity of ideas and all people?
  • What tangible goals does the organization have surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion? Who is responsible for making sure these goals are met? 
  • How do you think the company must improve its diversity efforts in the future?


Looking to gain more knowledge and insights about actionable steps you can take to champion DEI in your workplace, check out these free resources.

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