Last summer, as a result of the many conversations and efforts to bring attention to racial disparities, the MaiiC executive board took stock of its role to facilitate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within industrial workplaces. Action was taken to both launch an industry focused assessment and to bring together leaders to share what actions companies can do to take initiative on DEI within their companies.
MaiiC hosted a DEI webinar on March 3rd, 2021, where we heard from a DEI expert and industrial business leaders on their perspectives on what business leaders can do to facilitate action on DEI.
Dr. LB Hannahs of Tangible Development began with an argument for why and how businesses interested in making their workplaces better for their employees might do so. More than anything, there is a moral imperative: being inclusive is the right thing to do. There’s also a business case: diverse teams are more productive, innovative, and produce more revenue—namely, DEI is good for your bottom line.
But if you’re still not convinced, Dr. Hannahs advises, there is a survival imperative. The retirement of baby boomers means that new talent will have to be hired, and younger employees want to work for employers that integrate DEI into their business models. And with growing portions of the country being immigrants and their descendants, women, and Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) will inevitably be a larger part of the workforce. However, this doesn’t mean they’ll be represented automatically: organizations will need to adapt. This type of evolution, of course, has happened before—not only in response to new technologies, but to changing social realities like civil rights, disability rights, and the women’s movement. But those organizations that aren’t moving on this now will be playing catch-up in the future.
So how can companies get started today? Dr. Hannahs provided an evolution chart outlining the broad contours of where, along a progression, an organization might find itself.
Most importantly, businesses should understand:
Simply having people with marginalized identities on their staffs—whether women, racial or ethnic minorities, members of LGBTQ communities— doesn’t directly translate into an equitable workplace
These staff members may not be able to advance into leadership positions to shape the workplace themselves, or they may not have the tools or even bandwidth to make the workforce more reflective, representative, inclusive, or equitable for themselves or others.
DEI is more than just the presence of different people. Extending Verna Meyers’ metaphor, diversity is inviting someone to the party; equity is ensuring they have an easy way to get there; inclusion is whether they have a good time dancing when they’re there—and are planning the next party themselves.
So as you get started, ask yourself questions like:
- Do you have trouble retaining diverse hires?
- Are you asking staff about how valued they feel?
- How have you institutionalized this commitment with trainings or paid staff time?
Just asking these questions in an assessment phase can help you and your staff be reflective about potential solutions. But of course,
This work must be sustained!
Emotional responses can be high after major incidents such as George Floyd’s death, but the real impact of the work will require a long-term investment. As Dr. Hannahs explains, there are no overnight answers.
This long-term investment will also require empathy, vulnerability, and emotional work to talk about the realities of power dynamics in your workplace. Leaders must approach this work with cognizance, curiosity, cultural intelligence, courage, commitment, and collaboration.
After Dr. Hannah’s presentation, a panel discussion between a number of NYC industrial business leaders highlighted some real-life examples of successes, challenges, and processes for starting the DEI journey.
CEO Eric Ottaway said that Brooklyn Brewery began their DEI journey to ensure that their marketing efforts aligned with their actual work: were they practicing what they were preaching? In time, “we realized that our brewmaster, who is Black, had never had a person of color even apply to join the brewing division. So even though we were being very neutral and open about our needs in the forums we were using to recruit, that wasn’t enough. We realized we needed to amend how and where we recruit from if we’re really going to begin to open the doors from the get-go.”
Melanie Littlejohn of National Grid, a utility in New York State, made it clear that “it’s not enough to check the box of who’s in the room; we need to ensure as a business that we’re tapping and including the perspectives and skills that they bring to the organization in the work that we do. We do this so that our workplace is one where all employees’ contributions are valued and they can advance, but also so that our company’s work is enriched by those perspectives.”
Bright Power Chief Technology Officer Jamil Ellis, meanwhile, described the work his company does to bring clean energy and water services to buildings. Bright Power began their DEI journey with a few conversations:
- Taking a benchmark assessment
- Having an honest discussion among leadership
- Having open, safe, honest discussions with staff
- Requiring facilitated training for leadership
- Focusing on an operational pain point, namely, whether there were hiring, turnover, or retention issues.
To get started with your own internal assessment, have a look at MaiiC’s DEI Assessment here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/W7QP5W9.
And if you’re interested in taking the next step and learning more about Dr. Hannahs’ work, see https://tangibledevelopment.com/