When I work with organizations – especially in the energy sector – it’s clear that safety is a priority and there are systems and mechanisms in place to ensure that things happen in a safe way. And when things aren’t happening as they should be, a safety dashboard provides a transparent and simple way to flag issues. It works because the business depends on it – and, of course, it is the right thing to do. 

This got me thinking – where is the DEI dashboard? Where are the systems that make DEI a priority? You may say, well DEI is not business critical – I would argue that it is. You might say DEI is not a priority. I would say it has to be. You might contend that the business’ reputation is not defined by DEI. I’d suggest believing that to be true in the long-term is not a risk worth taking. 

Just like safety initiatives, having visible metrics and processes enables a business and its people to see how they are performing in real time. Just like safety initiatives, while the data is helpful, leadership has to reinforce and role model what’s required and expected. So too, with diversity, equality and inclusion. Metrics alone will not move the needle. 

When a business leads with safety it articulates those values and a shared purpose so that every employee understands the role of safety in the organization’s overall mission. They grasp how it relates to the bottom line, how it helps the company to stay competitive. The same is true of DEI and, again just like safety, DEI training must be applicable and actionable, not purely theoretical. 

DEI is a core leadership competency 

DEI training has traditionally been oversimplified, relying too heavily on the idea of ‘we’re different, be nice… class dismissed’. 

The fallout of this approach is a belief that the work has been done; employees know how to interact with one another – check the box. 

True organizational change, and the shift that needs to happen in order to adopt a DEI culture in the way we have with safety, takes deeper work. It requires understanding the business case – the ‘why’ of the piece – but also understanding the historical context for the current challenges.

It’s about understanding underlying causes and committing to continuous process improvement based on what we learn. Just as safety training is intrinsically tied to quality – and quality continuously improves – we also have to continuously improve our efforts. There has to be a willingness to explore the emotional and personal aspects of DEI and weave this knowledge into the core competencies of leadership. The absence of emotional intelligence in leadership is a contributing factor to lack of progress. Diversity and inclusion leadership must include self-reflection and self-awareness because it will likely require changing attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs.

An HBR report noted that diversity, all too often, is viewed as being in conflict with performance; something that leaders will get around to once they’ve made their quarterly numbers. However, the evidence that diversity improves performance is nothing less than overwhelming.

So, what’s stopping you approaching your DEI like you do safety?