Organizational DE&I and Personal Allyship for Cynics

Over time, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts have become pillars of many companies’ mission statements and communications. Everyone wants to ensure they’re doing all they can so their employees, vendors, and consumers feel seen, heard, and represented. But increasingly, talent professionals are realizing it takes more than good intentions to really move the needle on DE&I initiatives and allyship. If an organization is committed to doing more than just checking the box, how can it move beyond the performative to the practical business of creating a culture of inclusion?

In a recent Performance Matters Podcast conversation, Angela Peacock (pronouns: she/her/hers), global director of diversity and inclusion for fellow LTG company PDT Global, detailed the nuances between performative and practical DE&I efforts.

She explained that performative efforts can be extremely problematic, especially when weighing intent against impact. For instance, an organization posting a rainbow flag on its LinkedIn profile for Pride Month is well-meaning, but ultimately the external gesture is meaningless (and can cause real problems in employee engagement) if its internal work environment is actually rife with a culture of transphobia. Performative efforts, while usually undertaken with the best of intentions, typically do not eliminate barriers to inclusion and can lack a functional purpose. There is nothing transformative, and the effort can feel like window dressing—to both employees and consumers.

Practical DE&I

Real DE&I work, when done correctly, involves evidence-based planning, measurement, and accountability. Practical efforts begin with organizational self-awareness. A good assessment includes reflective questions such as:

  • How diverse is our group of executives and leaders? 
  • How diverse is our board of directors?
  • In which areas of the organization is diversity lacking?
  • Are all our employees being compensated equitably independent of gender or race?
  • Are our recruiting efforts improving our organizational diversity?

Often, organizations’ well-intentioned DE&I efforts can be undermined by unconscious biases of those evaluating these efforts. Honest and thorough answers to the preceding questions will often tell the story of whether your organization is practically removing barriers for historically marginalized groups, or whether you’re simply going through the motions. 

Don’t underestimate how powerful your employee engagement surveys can be in flagging the warning signs and how instructive they can be in prioritizing and planning your DE&I initiatives. It’s important to establish a baseline that measures two things: it needs to show how well you promote a culture of inclusion as an organization, preferably down to the level of departmental manager, and it should ask people to (voluntarily) disclose their diversity—their identity group or intersectionality. With these data points, you can start to map trends and evaluate your successes or failures in promoting DE&I.

But the fullness and usefulness of this data depend on the culture modeled by the organization and your leaders. If your past DE&I efforts have been performative, and your employees have seen no real impact, they will be less likely to disclose their real feelings and identity. However, if you tell employees what you’ll do with the information and how it will inform your actions, make it clear the results will enable the organization to do something meaningful and measurable, and then establish a track record of carrying through with those actions, people are statistically more likely to tell you who they are and how they feel.

Becoming an Ally

For those individual contributors without the situational authority to write organizational policy, there are still ways to encourage and support DE&I. Angela also joined us for a webinar (Allyship: Practical vs. Performative) in which she and her colleagues Hanadi Chehabeddine (she/her/hers), a certified inclusion consultant, and Alasdair James Scott (he/him & they/them), senior DE&I consultant and business psychologist, discussed ways in which anyone can help drive true inclusion.

The trio shared how allyship in support of any given community is an individual journey we take over time through three phases:

1. The starting zone—where these statements may apply to our mindset

  • I talk to others who look and think like me.
  • I avoid hard questions.
  • I deny discrimination is a problem.

2. The learning zone—where we start to expand our perception

  • I listen to others who think and look differently than I do.
  • I am vulnerable about my own biases and knowledge gaps.
  • I recognize that discrimination is a present and current problem.

3. The growth zone—where we begin to act

  • I surround myself with others who think and look differently than I do.
  • I identify how I may unknowingly benefit from the status quo.
  • I promote and advocate for policies and leaders that are inclusive.

The journey toward allyship doesn’t end, and we may find ourselves moving back and forth between zones at different times and in relation to different marginalized communities. But the goal remains the same: to show up as a true ally. There are many ways to do that, but our webinar’s panelists focused on these types of behavior:

  • The Cheerleader is a visible and vocal supporter of those in underrepresented groups. For example, this person might suggest another person for a project because of their skills when they’re overlooked.
  • The Amplifier helps to ensure that members of marginalized communities are heard, valued, and respected. This person promotes the inclusion of underrepresented voices in meetings, calls, newsletters, panels, and other high-profile events and interactions.
  • The Researcher proactively seeks various resources—rather than expecting an individual from an underrepresented group to educate them—to learn about the lived experience of those whom they are supporting.
  • The Intervener is someone who takes action to correct or call out problematic behavior and takes opportunities to defend others. They take time to explain the concern, ensuring there is understanding from members of the dominant group.
  • The Supporter can be viewed as a trustworthy confidant for members of a non-dominant group to share their perspectives, fears, joys, and concerns. They don’t question the lived experience of others and instead believe the truth in what they are told.

Blending the Organizational with Personal Allyship

Improving organizational DE&I and allyship efforts will create an environment of inclusion and psychological safety, which promotes not only stronger employee engagement but increased innovation. That ultimately reduces costs associated with employee turnover and can improve top-line growth for those organizations that implement their efforts in a practical—not performative—way.

In a market that increasingly expects accountability for proper DE&I efforts as a prerequisite for new and continued business, it’s important to have an experienced partner who can help ensure your initiatives make positive, real-world impacts. Contact us to get started today. 

About the Authors

GP Strategies Corporation

GP Strategies is a leading workforce transformation partner—a truly dedicated global provider delivering custom learning solutions—from the frontline to the C-Suite. Our transformation focus, combined with deep listening, a customer-centric approach, industry innovation and workforce expertise help clients achieve superior business and operational results through our evidence-driven and technology-agnostic recommendations. We’re at our best when driving innovation—integrating leading technologies, developing new learning paradigms, and instituting fresh business processes and measurement approaches. Working with 121 of the Global 500 customers, we’re proud to say our loyal clients see us as a valued extension of their team. Whether your business success requires a change in employee performance and mindsets, implementation of new learning technologies, or refinement of critical processes, GP Strategies is the transformation partner you can trust. We’re passionate about what we do and are ready to get to work.