Over the last few years, there has been a surge in the popularity of books, seminars, and other business events that provide training for corporate leaders in DEI best practices. The DEI training industry is now worth billions of dollars, as more and more organizations invest in these practices to meet consumer, employee, and societal expectations. However, Chief People Officers and Chief Diversity Officers need to understand that DEI practices are not just about meeting consumer preferences, but also building a culture internally that celebrates, appreciates, and fosters diversity and inclusion across the leadership ranks.
Creating such a culture has immense benefits for both organizational and individual performance. According to the corporate governance institute, diverse boards are good for business and produce a better financial performance for companies. The same is true across the organization when you have people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicity, education and work experience working together in teams and on projects. Having such teams will grow revenues, increase customer satisfaction, and raise overall engagement and productivity.
Building such a culture takes time and effort. It is not enough just to train everyone on the power of diversity and inclusion over a couple of training sessions, have posters across the workplace or merely talk about DEI in meetings. Leaders should intentionally catalyze conversations among their people, bring them together in situations other than work, and foster mutual understanding. On this note, leaders can learn from birds by observing how they fly together to a shared destination, and not flock together by the color of their feathers alone.
The most effective way to build a DEI culture that sustains over time is by designing and establishing a mentoring program where employees and senior leaders as mentors, engage in 1:1 sessions, group mentoring interactions, and fireside chats. Such a mentoring program must also be designed with feedback mechanisms that show a change in behavior and a growing understanding of one another.
Enterprise mentoring programs around DEI are also impactful because they provide marginalized employees the opportunity to prove themselves and create a level playing field for anyone with merit to thrive and grow in the organization. Companies with more diverse talent pools are more likely to increase retention and as a result lower turnover expenses.
The startup and running costs of a robust DEI mentoring program are low in comparison to these financial and cultural benefits. The ROI can be 10 to 20 times your investment in such DEI mentoring programs.
Ultimately, achieving DEI in the workplace is a journey, not a destination or a deadline to achieve. It is about demonstrating to your people and to society your seriousness and intentionality for building a DEI culture. Leaders should be bold to also share the positive financial and cultural results with the world, so more organizations get inspired to follow similar practices. It takes consistent work and empathetic leadership to foster a diverse and inclusive culture.