Shared from Forbes, written by Jennefer Witter. Original article here.
As companies undertake DEI work, they must authentically fold in unity, empathy, and decency.
Infusing diversity, equity, and inclusion concepts into a company can have a tremendously powerful impact: Research from McKinsey illustrates that companies in the highest quartile for gender diversity are 25% more profitable and those in the highest quartile for greater ethnic diversity are 36% more profitable. The World Economic Forum “suggests that companies with diverse employees have ‘up to 20% higher rate of innovation and 19% higher innovation revenues.’”
However, Rita Kakati-Shah, an award-winning gender, diversity, and inclusion strategist, has seen companies struggle to emerge stronger after undertaking DEI work. “While companies’ important DEI efforts may unearth essential truths, they can also create irrevocable fissures that threaten their ability to retain talent and thrive,” says Kakati-Shah, who is also the CEO and Founder of Uma.
“We know that 79% of people report that they will leave a company if they don’t feel valued and a sense of belonging,“ she continues. “While the business world grapples with the effects of ‘The Great Resignation,’ companies cannot afford to have their DEI work contribute to even further employee attrition.”
In Kakati-Shah’s new book The Goddess of Go-Getting: Your Guide to Confidence, Leadership, and Workplace Success, she offers companies and individuals action-driven DEI insights from her experience at the helm of Uma, as well as from being one of the first women on Goldman Sachs’ equities trading floor in London and a business development leader for a global pharmaceutical corporation.
These eclectic experiences have given Kakati-Shah a unique relationship to her own understanding of DEI as well as the work she does with Fortune 500 companies. Her belief is that many companies’ efforts fail to consider empathy, unity, and decency, and she offers these five tips to help maximize the impact of DEI work.
1) Lead with empathy.
At its core, empathy is about understanding another human’s experience, and it’s a cornerstone of DEI work. It also is quickly becoming an essential ingredient for overall success. Businessolver’s “2021 State of Workplace Empathy” reports that of people surveyed, 90% of Gen Z employees (the fastest-growing sector of the workforce) are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer, but only 68% of them rated their employers as empathetic.
This gap represents a threat to the long-term success of DEI programs that reply upon empathy to succeed and scale. To avoid this problem, companies must provide meaningful and adequate training around building empathy across all levels of the organization.
2) Listen before acting with decency.
There are many well-meaning people who want to immediately spring into action around DEI work, but good intentions are not the same as decency. When we act before listening, we haven’t taken the time to truly understand the multiple perspectives of everyone involved.
This can lead to people feeling excluded from DEI work instead of invited to be meaningfully engaged with the process. If people feel excluded, they will often assume the worst of company leadership and, in response, will endeavor to move to a company where they believe leadership centers decency.
In The Goddess of Go-Getting, Kakati-Shah introduces the two-fold concept of a “Decency Quotient” (DQ) and explores how having a high DQ can be a differentiating factor for companies looking to both implement a transformative DEI strategy and retain high-performing talent.
3) Consider culture from all angles.
It may seem strange to include this tip – after all, cultural competency is intrinsically linked to DEI work. However, companies often don’t take the time to step back and understand the complexities of culture that affect their teams.
Each company has its own culture; within that broader culture are many distinct experiences that are shaped by a person’s specific role, where they work, or their team itself. In the same vein, people have an array of cultures to which they may feel an affinity, and each connection shapes how they relate to people professionally and personally.
Leaders must be purposeful about understanding and respecting the many identities people hold and how they may “show up” in DEI work.
4) Be original.
In the realm of DEI work, imitation isn’t flattery: It can be disastrous.
Perhaps you’re captivated by a case study of how a particular company managed to engage in DEI work with rousing success and employee satisfaction, and think you’ve found the magic solution for your own organization. However, your work will not be successful if it is not authentically tied to your company, your people, and your own core values as a leader.
This is true of different office locations of the same company, too. There is no “one size fits all” approach to DEI, and be wary of anyone who tells you otherwise.
5) Don’t box yourself in.
DEI work cannot happen in a vacuum and is not about checking a series of boxes around hiring demographics. While you may work with specific consultants or have one or two departments with tactical DEI responsibilities, the best DEI work will be wholistic and in lockstep with your overall company strategy.
This is where the best companies start to see the direct correlation between DEI work and overall success. It also gives every person the opportunity to connect with DEI from their unique vantage point at your company and promotes sustainability by making the work a shared responsibility instead of something left to the purview of others.
Kakati-Shah delves further into these five tips in The Goddess of Go-Getting, which lays out the extensive behind-the-scenes work and thought that must go into building truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive cultures.
“Ultimately, The Goddess of Go-Getting is a book about the human experience,” says Kakati-Shah, “and my hope is that it not only helps companies achieve success, but humans achieve a greater understanding of how we can work together to create a more equitable and inclusive world.”