Recent events in America have revealed a chasm that’s existed for hundreds of years: systemic racism.

To address it, many organizations are attempting to create stronger diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) change agendas. We’ve asked three experts to weigh in on recent trends they’ve seen in workplace DEI initiatives and the steps companies can take to enhance their efforts. We are pleased to share the insights of Mr. Mauricio Velásquez, MBA, President of the Diversity Training Group (DTG) in Herndon, Virginia; Ms. Jaye Holly, MS, of Jaye Holly Consulting in Albany, New York; and Ms. Tara B. Taylor, MPA, Managing Director of ADR Vantage in Washington, DC.

It’s a defining moment in America.

Across the board, there’s a movement to create workplace cultures and policies that better support equity. “The need has always been there but what’s happening right now is different,” says Ms. Taylor. “I’m seeing a dramatically renewed focus on DEI and companies are realizing they can’t just talk about change. They have to ‘walk the walk’ to retain their employees, customers, and investors. This is not just something for the current news cycle.” Ms. Holly agrees. “People are rising up in record numbers. They are energized and passionate, and the positive momentum is astounding. I believe we are giving birth to new possibilities for the U.S.”  Mr. Velasquez says he knows we’re on the precipice of major change because he’s being barraged with questions from current and prospective clients. “CEOs are coming to me and admitting that their DEI efforts have been neglected,” he says. “They’re hungry for direction. They want to know how they can be intentional with their efforts. They’re looking for a path to reach a desired future state, and that’s a great first step.”

Business leaders are realizing they need to educate themselves on the nuances of DEI.

There exists a broad spectrum of levels of understanding, but across the board, executives are becoming more earnest about their learning. “Clients who are just beginning their DEI work may be looking for basics like guidance regarding inclusive language or how to set the stage for meaningful conversations among employees,” says Ms. Taylor. “Organizations that have been on board with it for some time might need suggestions for how to retain and more deeply engage a certain segment of their workforce. It depends largely on the company, but leaders are becoming aware of the need to invest in DEI.” Mr. Velazquez says he has seen denial replaced with acknowledgment. “I used to encounter plenty of skeptics, but not anymore. Clients are telling me that frank conversations are needed within their organizations, and they recognize that they don’t know where to begin.”

Those who were once restrained are now stepping into the spotlight.

Another surefire sign that change is real is when those who are notoriously reticent to take a stand begin to do so. That’s precisely what Ms. Holly has experienced with many of her non-profit clients. “They have worked hard for years to create powerful DEI-centric policies and procedures within their organizations, but they didn’t want to speak out. Now, these same folks are championing the diversity cause and taking that message beyond their business walls. They’re even asking what else they can do.”

Our experts have this advice for organizations seeking to enhance their DEI initiatives:

Diversity efforts must be all-inclusive.  While much of the recent focus has been on racial inclusiveness, diversity in the workplace doesn’t stop there. “It needs to include everyone, and that extends to identity markers such as gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, and more,” cautions Mr. Velasquez. “The senseless murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and countless other African Americans have rightfully propelled race to the spotlight. But it’s important to remember that bias, discrimination, and marginalization can occur in many ways.”

DEI efforts need to be visible and supported. To ensure that the initiatives and efforts are sustainable for the long term, business leaders have a responsibility to treat them with reverence and emphasis. “Make them a core business practice, not some peripheral side option,” says Ms. Taylor. “To elevate DEI work in the organization, leaders must provide an appropriate budget and level of resources to adequately address the resulting issues and opportunities.”

Find opportunities to build bridges. “In America, we love to talk about our independence, but we focus so little on our interdependence,” says Ms. Holly, “In reality, we are all connected and we need each other. True greatness comes from unity, not isolation.”

Article reposted with permission from The HR Team