By Lor N. Lee, Mayo Clinic
After wrapping up a diversity and inclusion session recently, I was approached by one of the participants who said, “You know we are still dealing with many of the same issues as we did in the 1950s and 1960s.” I answered, “Yes, we are.”
That exchange was more than ten years ago. Fast forward to today, and many organizations across the nation are increasing their focus on diversity and inclusion. Talk to leaders in any industry, and they will say that diversity and inclusion has become a major focus. If that is true, why is it so hard to execute and truly “weave diversity and inclusion into the fabric of the culture”?
It’s not because of a lack of intellect. Many organizations know we need to do better. D&I practitioners have made the business case time and time again in corporate conference rooms across America, arguing that diversity leads to increases in revenue, employee engagement, and innovation. My guess is that many of you have created and delivered “the business case” presentation many times to a group of heads nodding in agreement, but only to see marginal results.
So why is it that we are still dealing with many of the same issues we dealt with more than half a century ago? It’s because our systems haven’t adapted to the context in which we live and operate. Yes, we have seen our workforces grow much more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and generations. But let me ask you this: Did we intentionally set out to create that change OR did that change happen to us? Diversity is happening and will continue to happen. We need to decide how we are going to expedite that change within our organizations by changing the way we recruit, whom we identify as potential candidates, and broadening our pools.
The real task at hand is creating a place for inclusion to thrive. To create an environment where all people are respected, can bring their whole selves to work, and can contribute to their fullest potential. To do this, many organizations have turned to training. Topics such as unconscious bias, micro-inequities, and privilege are all hot topics. But what we need today is “just enough training, just in time.”
We tend to inundate people with too much training, because we think this work is so important. When was the last time you were able to remember everything you learned in a day-long workshop and apply it to your work? We need to be able to take all those important concepts we want people to learn and break them up so people can get enough of what they need just in time to make appropriate behavior changes.
And training by itself though is not enough. Part of our work today is to build both human connections and community. This work has always been about people. Creating spaces for people to feel safe, build trust with others, and forge bonds at work. We can do that by designing experiences that bring people together to connect and find intersectionality. Ways that are accessible to anyone, regardless of where they are on their inclusion journey, will help people understand that we each have a role to play. Through these experiences, we can start to break down biases and help people appreciate both the differences and similarities we all bring.
Just enough training, just in time, coupled with creating ways to find intersectionality, will begin to change our systems. The final piece of the puzzle takes more courage from the top. As more women, people of color, younger generations, LGBTI individuals, veterans, people with variable abilities, and others start to change the look of organizations, issues once considered “nice to haves” will be “must haves” if we want to continue to recruit and retain the best talent. Topics such as flexibility, parental leave, growth and development, advancement of underrepresented individuals in leadership roles, transgender benefits, and pay equity are going to be crucial issues for us to champion.
If we can collectively deliver just enough training, just in time, create intersectionality, and start to address these “must have” issues across our respective industries, we can look back 50 years from now and say that we are no longer dealing with the issues we dealt with in 2019.
Lor N. Lee
Administrator/ Director Of Diversity and Inclusion at Mayo Clinic. He has over 18 years of experience in leadership positions with responsibilities for the development and implementation of diversity, inclusion and cultural competence initiatives.