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Embracing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Overcoming Fears and Building a Positive Workplace Culture

Updated: Jan 9

In recent months, some organizations, politicians, and business leaders have expressed a desire to walk back their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) programs.  This is evident in the narratives we hear about being “woke” and the fact that DEI roles and programs are being eliminated at an alarming rate across the US (HR Magazine, Winter 2023, The Diversity Dilemma). This pace of change implies that employee voices seeking representation and inclusion are no longer issues in the workplace.  We know this is not true as labor unions today are now winning +80% of their representation elections, an all time record high win rate with record levels of union organizing (Bloomberg Law 2023 Labor Data Series) activity and +50% more EEOC workplace discrimination lawsuits were filed in 2023 vs 2022 (EEOC).

This raises some important questions:

1.) Why is the idea of having a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture, where employees feel a sense of inclusion and belonging so frightening for some? 

2.) How did we get to a point where DEIB is being reduced to “culture war” narrative, where some feel disadvantaged or that they are losing status at the expense of others? 

3.) Why are organizations and leaders who say they are committed to creating a positive workplace culture which embraces diversity and inclusion allowing this hijacking of DEIB to persist? The words and deeds are not aligned.

Effective December 26th, 2023, a new set of workplace standards are set to go into effect from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regarding Joint Employer standards (NLRB 2023 Joint Employer Standards) and Representation Case procedures (NLRB 2023 Final Rule). These rulings will make it easier for employees to organize their workplaces and for those employers not invested in building an equitable and inclusive workplace, you could be elevating your risk of being organized. 

This article aims to explore these questions and shed light on the importance of embracing DEIB initiatives while creating a workplace culture where all employees feel welcomed and included.

The Value of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging:

A workplace culture that embraces diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging brings numerous benefits. Firstly, diversity in backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives fosters innovation and creativity. When people from diverse backgrounds come together, they bring unique ideas and solutions to the table, leading to better problem-solving and decision-making. Additionally, a diverse workforce helps organizations better understand and cater to a diverse customer base, leading to increased business success.  When did any of these things become less important to organizations?

Equity and inclusion are equally vital. By ensuring equal opportunities and fair treatment for all employees, organizations can create an environment where everyone has the chance to succeed. When employees feel valued and included, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and loyal to their organization. This, in turn, enhances productivity and overall employee satisfaction.

Addressing Fears and Misconceptions:

Resistance towards DEIB initiatives often stems from fears and misconceptions. Some individuals may perceive a more diverse and inclusive culture as a threat to their existing privileges or positions. However, it is crucial to understand that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace does not mean disadvantaging one group at the expense of others. It is about providing equal opportunities and representation for all individuals, ensuring that everyone has an equitable chance to thrive.

Moreover, DEIB initiatives are not about pitting employees against each other. Instead, they aim to foster an environment of collaboration, respect, and understanding. By embracing DEIB, organizations can harness the power of diverse perspectives and experiences, leading to better teamwork, problem-solving, and innovation.

Overcoming Challenges and Embracing Change:

To address the persisting challenges and misconceptions surrounding DEIB initiatives, organizations must take proactive steps. It starts with leadership commitment and accountability. Business leaders need to champion diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, visibly demonstrating their commitment to creating a positive workplace culture.  Yes, leadership is hard work and improving organizational culture is hard work as well. If you are not up to the challenge, maybe you should consider stepping aside.

Organizations should invest in comprehensive DEIB training programs focused on bringing people together, not tearing each other apart and educate employees on the value of diversity and inclusion, debunk misconceptions, and promote empathy and understanding. Additionally, creating forums for open dialogue and feedback can help address concerns and foster a sense of psychological safety, where employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and experiences.  If organizations fail to do this, they are setting themselves up for active 3rd party representation activity e.g. union organizing campaigns, EEOC claims etc. which will be difficult to prevail against based on current workplace legislation.

Lastly, organizations should regularly assess their DEIB initiatives, seeking feedback from employees and making necessary adjustments. Continuous improvement is key to building an inclusive culture that evolves with the changing needs and perspectives of the workforce.

Creating a workplace culture that embraces diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging is not only a moral imperative but also a smart strategic advantage. By fostering a culture where all employees feel welcomed, respected, and included, organizations can unlock the full potential of their workforce, leading to increased innovation, productivity, and employee satisfaction. It is crucial for organizations to reassess their commitment to DEIB initiatives and embrace the positive changes that come with building an inclusive workplace culture. Let us move forward together, overcoming fears and misconceptions, towards a future where every employee feels valued and included.

John Hawkins is the President and CEO of Management Performance International dba MPI Consulting, a Cincinnati OH based Human Resource, strategic consulting company.

MPI Consulting (established in 1974) has 50 years of experience helping organizations improve their capability development by providing expertise in Human Resource consulting, Employee Relations, Labor Relations, Compensation/Total Rewards and Leadership Coaching and Front-Line Manager Skills Training.

John is an internationally experienced executive, keynote speaker and corporate trainer. John has worked with hundreds of companies helping them to accelerate their business performance by improving their strategies, developing their people and developing pragmatic implementation solutions.

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