Building a Culture of DEI and Empathy in the Workplace

A new report from the Society for Human Resource Management found that racial issues in the workplace cost U.S. employers billions of dollars each year. SHRM offered tips on improving DEI and empathy to help organizations get on the right path.

While the push to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in offices has picked up steam in the past year, DEI work has been around for decades without creating sustained improvement. Recognizing this, the Society for Human Resource Management recently released several reports to both quantify the importance of DEI and help employers improve DEI at their workplace.

The Cost of Racial Injustice” [PDF] estimated that employee absenteeism due to anxiety, worry, stress, or frustration stemming from experiencing or witnessing unfair treatment based on race or ethnicity may have cost U.S. businesses up to $54 billion in the past year. To help employers combat these problems, SHRM’s Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on Racial Equity released a report that offers steps workplaces can take right now to improve DEI.

The BRC report included these six recommendations: redefine your culture and values, practice inclusive hiring and promotion, have open dialogue about taboo topics, invest capital in social impact funds and corporate social responsibility programs, market to those who have been ignored, and rebuild your enterprise to be a force for good.

According to SHRM Chief Knowledge Officer Alexander Alonso, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, the steps in the report can be taken in any order. “I think the key first step for anyone—no matter how you are going about this and no matter what your culture looks like—is you should assess what it is that your current state is,” he said. “Then chart a course for how you want to get to your new state.”

Part of this should include understanding how an organization currently works.

“In the world of change management, we’ve seen that change requires not just a change in the ways that we are looking to accomplish things or create new products, but it also speaks to changing the way that people accomplish things,” Alonso said. “The easiest way to do that is by understanding how it is that people within the organization go about getting stuff done.”

While the BRC report noted the six steps are something organizations can start right now, Alonso said substantive change takes time.

“It’s hard to put a time stamp on this kind of stuff,” he said. “If you are looking at a significant amount of change, really thinking about where that change comes from, you are talking about an effort that is much more lengthy.”

Building that change requires change at all levels of the organization. Alonso suggested having staff at all levels contribute to developing the guiding principles the organization is going to operate under.

“So, it’s not dependent upon a leader; the leader is just one contributor in how we do that,” Alonso said. “The second piece—and this is really important for people managers in particular, for hiring managers—is to hire people that we know will be culturally aligned. In other words, people who will fit the culture we need to be successful as an organization.”

Hiring talent that aligns with the organizational values will help maintain the culture, as new hires are with the program, rather than resistant to it.

Empathy is part of the formula

An additional component that helps improve DEI at an organization is empathy. Another SHRM report, “Empathy: DE&I’s Missing Piece” [PDF], noted that 97 percent of employees believe empathy is essential to a healthy workplace culture and that low empathy organizations have a lot of turnover and struggle to promote DEI.

“One of the things we are seeing is that there are five elements that are absolutely critical when it comes to making your culture empathetic,” Alonso said. “They range from providing a sense of belonging to really understanding how it is that your organization manages conflict and resolves them.”

With a good culture of empathy, an organization can flourish and avoid toxicity. “People are seeing more clearly every day now that we need to strip away this notion of toxicity in our cultures and make culture that is not just inclusive but empathetic,” Alonso said.

How does your association encourage a culture of DEI and empathy? Share in the comments.

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Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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