Why and How to Prioritize DEI at Your Organization
Earlier this year, Forum One began to explore how it can address and promote the awareness of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) company-wide. As we continue to work together to improve who we are as a company, we would like to share what we’ve done so far in the hope that the actions and lessons we’ve learned so far may be useful to your own organization’s DEI efforts. In April, we formed the inaugural Forum One Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team. We have made progress on DEI at Forum One in recent years, but we wanted to engage staff who also wanted to take these efforts further. Leadership made DEI a company-wide priority in 2019. Our goal in launching this newly-created DEI program was to build a stronger and more diverse Forum One — because more diverse teams make better business decisions, which will, in turn, enable us to recruit great people as our company grows. We hit the ground running, meeting in person to discuss and establish our goals for the initiative. The room was full of passion and everyone had plenty of ideas about how our organization can improve its understanding and support of DEI. After the session, we walked away with a clear destination that we wanted to reach. We knew from the beginning that DEI needed to be a long-term, continual, effort to become fully embedded in all aspects of the company. In this regard, we are committed to improving who we are as a company every single day in hopes that others join us stride-for-stride on this lifelong run.
Why DEI is important and should be prioritizedThe goal of the Forum One DEI team is to promote awareness around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within the company to better serve our client community and be the lens of our organizational goal to be a smarter, more diverse team. The team was created to lead this initiative for change in procedures, decision-making processes, and the allocation of resources so that Forum One is more diverse, equitable, and inclusive in order to better serve our staff and clients. Recent Glassdoor studies concluded that 57% of employees think their companies should be more diverse and that 67% of job seekers value a diverse workforce when considering offers. Research also shows that companies that are more diverse are more innovative, and that diversity leads to an increasingly-diverse customer and client network, increased insight into customer needs and goals, and increased earnings.
How Forum One is prioritizing DEIOnce this was set as an organizational goal, here are the actions we have taken:
- We established a DEI team to spearhead this work (see more below on how to do that) and allocated time and budget to get these initiatives going.
- We hired a consultant to assist the DEI team in developing a long-term strategic plan that holds departments accountable for furthering diversity work.
- We developed a survey for our entire staff to determine a baseline of DEI at Forum One and areas of improvement. Provide robust training for leadership and staff.
- We’ve have maintained a steady drumbeat of content sharing, and discussion facilitation.
- We’ve done small stuff like adding preferred pronouns to email signatures and Slack profiles (and anywhere else a professional profile exists).
- We’ve hosted more nuanced workshops, such as “Diversity for Designers” to help our design team think differently about how we approach our design work.
Steps you can take to start a DEI initiative at your companyIf you are interested in starting a DEI initiative at your organization, we don’t believe you need to be an “expert” to get started. Here are some of the founding actions we’ve taken that may help you take those first steps:
Assemble a team of committed members, and get started
- First, create a short application form to send to everyone in your organization. Ask questions about why they want to be involved in a DEI initiative, what experience they have with the subject matter, and why they feel personally connected to this type of work. Look for people who seem committed and passionate about joining the team and driving this work forward at your organization.
- Ensure that the DEI team is representative of different departments or service areas within your organization, diverse identities, and perspectives.
- There’s no right or wrong size for a DEI team, ours is seven people. With seven people, at least some of us can make progress, even if all of us can’t attend every meeting. It also means we can divide and conquer when planning events for staff, pushing out messages about DEI to our respective service areas, completing tasks, and creating content. We each have different responsibilities within the team and everyone shares the work.
Set goals, and figure out what you want to improve
- Once we had our team in place, we met together in-person to establish our goals. We discussed in-depth about what we are doing well now and what we want to improve. We had an honest conversation about why each of us joined the team and the potential change we were excited about.
- We did a design sprint activity called a Lightning Decision Jam to name what was working and what wasn’t, and to quickly define and prioritize some initial goals and action items.
- Our action items ranged in size: some were large and long-term, like hiring a DEI consultant to help build our initiative. And some were smaller and could be done in the short term, “low hanging fruit” that can be implemented immediately. For example, invite staff to add pronouns to their email signatures or post one DEI-related piece of content to all staff on a weekly basis.
- All companies and organizations are different, so customize your DEI efforts to meet the needs of your staff. Define what Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mean for your organization and what success of the initiative will look like if you reach the goals you’ve outlined.
Carve out time and budget
- It can be challenging to find time to move your DEI initiative forward. We all have other projects and priorities on our plates, but we’ve committed to giving time to DEI efforts each week.
- Early on we struggled to build momentum, and our DEI work felt stagnant. We addressed it by making it clear that it’s a priority—both within our team and within the company. We started meeting as a team once a week for half an hour, rather than just once a month. And we got buy-in from leadership to spend 4 hours per week on DEI-related tasks.
- Be sure to allocate a specific budget for training, staff time, travel, or related expenses needed for getting any new initiative off the ground.
- A DEI initiative can’t be treated as an experimental side project. It needs to be given the same amount of thought and care that you give the rest of your important work. If it’s not consciously prioritized, it’s easy for it to get pushed aside.
- Get buy-in from the top. The leaders of your organization need to understand and appreciate how important DEI is, and why it should be prioritized. If you can give them a clear idea of the value it will bring to staff, it will be much easier to get the time and budget needed for the initiative to be successful.
Get people talking about DEI, and encourage discussion
- About a month after we formed our DEI team, we hosted “Viewing Parties” where we invited staff to screenings of a DEI-related video, then have small group discussions about what they watched and about their experiences at Forum One.
- After the screenings, we sent out a short feedback form to gather the staff’s thoughts since it was the first time anyone had hosted something like that. We got a lot of positive feedback, and many of our coworkers asked us for more events and more discussions like the ones we had.
- It’s important to have meetings like this in person. Many of our staff noted that they rarely get the opportunity to have honest, open face-to-face discussions around hard topics like race in the workplace. We were able to find space for those conversations through these viewing parties, and create a safe space for people to talk to each other about something other than their day-to-day work.
- We also began sharing DEI-related content such as articles and videos in our #general channel in Slack every week to start conversations with people outside of the DEI team. It has been great to see their responses and people discussing the topic with each other. This has created a steady drumbeat of conversation and hopefully is helping to build awareness around certain topics.
Make a commitment to get started. You just need to listen, think, and take action
- You don’t need to have experience working in the DEI space to start an initiative at your organization. Most of the people on our team are brand new to this work, and are not “experts.” We all do care deeply about our company improving in this area, bring our own unique perspectives, and we’re willing to learn. When embarking on a new journey, it’s typical to have uncertainty and hesitation. Don’t let that be a blocker. There are plenty of resources online to get the ball rolling (a few of our favorites are attached at the end of this blog post).
- Listen to what others have to say, think about how their frameworks might apply to your organization, and take some first steps. We all have to start somewhere.
- DEI cannot just live within a committee or one person, to be successful, this work must be owned by all departments and individuals within the organization.
Key takeawaysIt takes time and effort to develop a DEI initiative, and you won’t see improvements to your organization overnight. We haven’t done it before, if we’re doing it, you can too, it’s not difficult, but does need to be handled with care. The main action items to get started are:
- Assemble a team of committed members, and get started.
- Set some goals, and figure out what you want to improve.
- Carve out time and budget.
- Get people talking about DEI, and encourage discussion.
- Make a commitment to get started. You just need to listen, think, and take action.
What a DEI initiative is not
- A one and done solution/ Silver Bullet
- A checkbox
- Token initiative
- One team’s responsibility
What a DEI initiative is
- Ongoing, cross-functional work
- Never finished
Interested in chatting further about our DEI initiatives?
Our DEI team would love to connect. Get in touch today!