Editor’s Note: Alison Edwards, M.A. is the CEO of Santa Ana-based Groundswell and Seema Shah is director of training teams at Groundswell, formerly OC Human Relations,which was founded in 1991 as a private nonprofit to implement programs for schools, corporations, cities and foundations. This week’s Special Report on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion begins on page 17.
For us, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are part of our DNA. Our life’s work is to make Orange County a safe, peaceful, welcoming place for all people.
That said, the Orange County businesses we partner with express a range of feelings about DEI. Part confusion, dread, annoyance and anxiety—part curiosity, understanding and joy—companies often feel the need to walk on eggshells when discussing DEI.
There are a myriad of reasons for these mixed and opposing reactions. DEI as we know it, is in a state of innovation, and not everyone has it figured out.
An outgrowth of human resources, a profession originally designed to protect businesses, DEI flips the HR model to protect employees by imploring companies to create spaces where every person feels safe, included and empowered to succeed.
Yes, DEI is a response to disparity, but seriously, why wouldn’t we all want this to succeed?
Diversifying your workforce leads to more opportunity, success and credibility to show up in different spaces to grow your presence.
For all who view this concept as a threat, we’re here to disarm DEI and reveal its power to benefit us all.
“D” stands for diversity.
In a diverse organization, there can be many people from different and diverse backgrounds. The focus here is on quantity or numbers. What does this look like for many companies?
They often associate diversity solely with race or gender, but the opportunities extend far beyond these factors.
DEI can involve hiring people with disabilities, of varying ages or in alternate fields of study, which can help your company tap into a fountain of advantageous insights and experiences. Look around.
Do you have people with the knowledge, history and viewpoints to help your product or service connect with evolving populations and audiences? Diverse companies have a clear edge over homogenous cultures with limited perspectives when it comes to reaching wider audiences.
“E” is for equity.
This is simply about ensuring that everyone receives what they need and are provided access and opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways. It’s a recognition that different identities and communities have varying needs and ways of delivering skill sets.
How this looks like in organizations is actively changing, incorporating structures, policies and practices to provide appropriate and relevant resources and support. That’s equity, and it’s the result of diversity and inclusion. You cannot have the E without the D and the I.
“I” stands for inclusion.
Everyone’s experience in life is different. To be inclusive, we must be open to hearing about those experiences. Inclusive companies are more likely to hit their financial goals by up to 120%, according to a study by Drive Research consulting firm.
Getting there isn’t as difficult as you may think. You can do this by building trusted relationships and community in your office, your warehouse or your lunchroom. Wherever you want and need people to connect, trust each other and work together, you must ensure there is a seat at the table for everyone.
Please remember: Inclusion is about adding seats, not taking away or replacing them. It’s about expanding spaces for those who haven’t taken part, but who have priceless contributions to make.
Breaking DEI into bite-sized pieces can be remarkably effective. You don’t have to execute a top-down, all-or-nothing initiative.
Instead, focus on one thing at a time. Take a big step back and ask, “What works best for where I am now?” Then, be intentional. Don’t hire for stats—hire for purpose and perspective.
Even if you’re not hiring, you can begin cultivating trust and improving communication. Live and breathe a transparent and honest culture that supports employees speaking up without retaliation or judgment when something is off or uncomfortable.
Establishing that trust and transparency before adding to your staff can create a substantial company culture future employees will gravitate to.
Countering the Fear
For many executives there is a fear behind hiring someone so different from themselves. It may lead them to feel that they may be walking on eggshells by saying the wrong things that lead to personal and organizational consequences.
Putting your comfort above the wellbeing of the company is just not smart for business and sidestepping an opportunity to add to your organization’s diversity will only limit other golden opportunities.
Consider this: Nearly 80% of workers say they want to work for a company that values diversity, equity and inclusion, according to a CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workforce Survey.
The greatest teacher is making mistakes and the process of failure. We’re all human.
Having the courage to stop, listen and learn can inspire excellence at every level. Operating with this growth mentality fosters a culture of open, respectful communication and sets everyone up for success.
Each year, our organization, Groundswell, collects data in partnership with the County of Orange.
Each year, we see that Orange County is becoming increasingly diverse. In fact, nearly 58% of our 3.1 million residents identify as people of color, according to Data USA.
In related data that affects the health of our community and our economy, hate activity has steadily increased.
In 2021, 398 hate crimes and incidents were reported, a 165% increase from five years ago, according to the 2021 Hate Crimes Report published by the OC Human Relations Commission.
Hate incidents were primarily targeted at Asian/Pacific Islanders, 51%, Jewish, 26% and Blacks, 8%.
While the numbers reported in a county of 3.1 million residents may seem low, it is on trend with the national and statewide rise in hate, considering underreporting is common.
As community and business leaders, we have a powerful opportunity to shape DEI into a productive force in life and work.
Caring about people should not be classified as a radical agenda. Helping people feel connected and safe shouldn’t be polarizing. Being mindful of each other’s differences and gifts should be something we value, not fear.
By prioritizing our shared humanity over political ideologies or agendas, we all have much to gain.