Over the summer of 2020, many organizations realized that they needed to make commitments to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). But building strategies around diversity, equity, and inclusion is new to many organizations.
We spoke with Mercedes Jenkins, diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist at Google, about what organizations can do on their path to creating a more inclusive environment. Mercedes works to create equitable hiring processes and reflect the global community of Google users. Mercedes also teaches courses on DEI and has led workshops with the internal Gladstone community on DEI 101, building knowledge around inclusive language, and understanding microaggressions as part of our series, Critical Conversations.
I’d ask, why wouldn’t an organization care about representing the communities they serve, center equity into their processes, and want to ensure a place where individuals feel supported, like they belong?
There are myriad studies that show organizations that integrate DEI into all they do, are more effective, efficient, and make more money. And yet, personally, I don’t believe that should be why an organization cares about DEI. They should care because this work supports the reckoning happening with companies grappling with the moment we are all living in. If a company uplifts DEI as a part of their work—then we need to go beyond words and reckonings and put action behind that.
Diversity represents the differences and variations found in a group, which can encompass:
Something that’s important in understanding diversity is that one person cannot be diverse. There is no such thing as a diverse candidate, a diverse teammate, or a diverse hire—that language is often code for identifying the race and gender of a person without explicitly naming it and that can cause harm and perpetuate stereotypes (i.e., “we lower the bar for diversity hires…” or “we have regular hires and diversity hires…”). I don’t think that means we shouldn’t use the word diverse or diversity, but that we should think critically about how we are using it. We should always strive to use language that is accurate, inclusive, and empowering—this is something my teachers have helped me to realize.
Equity means equally high access to opportunities and success for all individuals, regardless of any social or cultural factors. It means:
Sometimes it entails differentiating our processes and practices and taking into account those who haven’t had access or opportunity due to systemic racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, or transphobia, and actively trying to correct those imbalances.
It also means that sometimes, we need to be honest about where we might be giving folks in dominant groups certain advantages (for example: White and Asian Men are overrepresented in many tech companies) and make adjustments.
For instance, if we place more weight on referrals from executives than others, we need to acknowledge that that often leads to executive teams mostly made up of folks from dominant groups. So, by giving their referrals an undue advantage, we are perpetuating more of the same. If we are seeking representation across all demographics and identity, we need to center equity in everything we do as an organization. It’s hard. It’s challenging. And equity requires to decenter what has been legacy and what has been comfortable in order to center our most marginalized communities.
Inclusion happens when we value the perspectives and contributions of all people and intentionally incorporate their diverse needs and viewpoints. It’s found in cultures that:
The thing I love about this definition is the co-creation aspect. Inclusion is so much more than folding people into a community; it’s about ensuring they are a part of the creation of that community. They become creators of the processes and practices that will truly ensure the organization is a place where everyone feels that they can succeed.
I would also offer that diversity, equity, and inclusion are not interchangeable, but instead, work in concert with one another. They inform one another, and each is integral to ensuring the other can flourish.
Align on what diversity, equity, and inclusion means for your organization. What is your common language? How will you socialize it so everyone within the company can see these efforts as a part of their work and responsibility, rather than separate from their everyday work?
Then, look inwards.
These questions will help inform actions to take and truths to recognize about your organization. Validating the experiences and learnings you find from unpacking those questions will be a key piece of integrating DEI into your organization’s DNA.
There are a few different ways to measure success. Unpacking DEI will help illuminate some of those measures of impact.
No gaps across demographics in:
Also, don’t underestimate the power of anecdotes and storytelling. Listen to what your employees are saying. Their comments are valid and highlight their realities. We often anchor on quantitative metrics to measure success, but qualitative measures can be just as impactful.
Short answer, there might be people in an organization that don’t see the point. And with that said, if DEI is integral to your values as an organization, then at some point you have to decide, if folks don’t get it and won’t engage in it, then maybe this organization isn’t for them.
All of these concepts work in concert with one another—you cannot have representation without also focusing on equity and inclusion at your company. It’s easy to talk about diversity, because we often think about things that are visible, specifically race and gender (of course diversity is so much more than that), while equity and inclusion sometimes require a more intentional look at impact. The fact is, they are all important and rely on one another to come to fruition.
In my opinion, everyone. If DEI is crux to a company, then for it to be really sustainable, the responsibility needs to be distributed across everyone. While the implementation might look different by role, tenure, or level, everyone should be a part of developing and implementing DEI.
I think a major pitfall is putting this work on a team or a few individuals rather than distributing responsibility across everyone. One solution is tying these efforts to team and company goals and key performance indicators (KPIs (KPIs) to measure performance and promotion. If DEI is integral to your organization and the way you and your employees approach your work, then everyone should be measured against that.
I would also offer that you shouldn’t just rely on building representative pipelines of candidates. It’s not enough to bring in folks across all different paths, experiences, and backgrounds. You have to keep them there, grow and develop them, and they have to be given opportunities to co-create the working environment. Many organizations focus on one piece of DEI and neglect the others.
Distribute the responsibility of this work across everyone. Recognize individuals who have been doing this work from the beginning (by paying, promoting, and developing them!) and hold everyone accountable for incorporating DEI into their work.
I’d also suggest that an organization should build managers’ capabilities in managing across lines of difference at all levels, and actively work to correct any imbalances. This often becomes the burden of members of marginalized communities.
All my responses have been informed and shared through my mentors and teachers in this space. I don’t know if I believe there are DEI experts—I see folks in this field as life-long practitioners and I’m lucky to have met many others who have shared their knowledge (much of that is shared in this Q&A) and helped me grow. Specific shout out to Clayton Robbins, Dwetri Addy, Olivia Rivero Martin, Marnie Florin, and Audrey Harris who are phenomenal practitioners and challengers of the status quo.