When organizations begin efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is often at the leadership level. Many think that once leaders decree that DEI is a priority, all staff will immediately infuse it into their work. But engaging employees in your DEI initiatives takes deliberate effort, including providing training and ways for them to give input into the programs, experts say.
“If we start to engage employees in conversations and get their input, when the strategy comes out, they can see themselves in the plan, and you’ve got a foundation of buy-in,” said Emily Holthaus, managing director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Nonprofit HR. “That tells them, ‘My voice, no matter where I am in the organization, matters,’ and we’re taking that into consideration as we design the strategy overall.”
Carmen Suarez, an assistant professor of practice at Southern Illinois University and a board member for the American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity, agrees that including staff at all levels is critical.
“We have to model that inclusion and let employees be participatory in the design of these programs,” she said.
If your association has initiated DEI programs in the past without involving staff, you can fix that. “Say, ‘Hey, we missed something. We created this plan, and we didn’t bring all the vantage points to the table,’” Holthaus said. “It’s never too late to shift and say, ‘We’ve learned something about inclusion and how this needs to work, so we’re going to do something very differently.’ And then start to do it. It takes humility.”
Invest in Training
In addition to involving staff in creating your DEI strategy and programming, it’s important to train your team. “You don’t wake up understanding things like cultural literacy, cultural competence, implicit bias, how to make change,” Suarez said. “Those are things that require training.”
Suarez notes that when organizations spend thousands of dollars on new technology, they also typically spend money training staff how to use it. But they regularly roll out DEI initiatives without allocating money or time for training.
“People like to go to conferences and get training, so you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is,” Suarez said. “Management has to budget that time in and then not demand of the employees to get the same amount of work done at their desk.” DEI training is a professional development activity, and organizations need to give employees the time and space to learn.