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Overcoming the Barriers to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion to Impact Culture Change

The concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have escaped thoughtful adoption in the past by many companies. However, in the current climate, many corporations have recognized the need for a broader acceptance and understanding of DEI in and for their businesses. Steve Pockross, CEO of Verblio, and Dr. Tolonda Tolbert “Dr. T”, our Co-Founder and Head of Strategy & Culture at Eskalera, had an in-depth discussion to dive into the importance of DEI and what companies can do to incorporate diversity into the fabric of their businesses.

Barriers to Developing a Diverse and Inclusive Company Culture

In 20 years of developing strategies for integrating DEI into a company’s structures, regardless of industry, there were a couple of significant barriers, which can often hinder the process: (1) the need for skill-building and on-going support to help people to recognize and mitigate their own biases and prejudices; and (2) the acceptance of ‘trickle-down’ theory. Tearing down these barriers is fundamental to the process of driving systemic and sustainable culture change within organizations. The process of change can be difficult, especially when dealing with ingrained personal beliefs and norms. Being able to create a ‘judgment-free’ zone where people feel comfortable building skills that are initially foreign, then progressing to uncomfortable, and ultimately mastery is key to successful change. Also, the traditional ‘trickle-down’ philosophy that relies on the belief that bestowing upper-level individuals with requisite knowledge serves to benefit the masses is counterproductive. In corporations, it is not only management that needs to be trained in these DEI skills; everybody needs to receive training. This information needs to be filtered through every level of a company’s structure and integrated into its daily work and culture.

An Efficacious Model for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

The mindset that needs to be embraced when endeavoring to facilitate an inclusive company environment focuses on being intentional about learning. Aligning your company with a message of diversity is not about punishing employees for ‘infractions’ or even attending ‘diversity training.’ Although this training can have inherent value, it ultimately is insufficient in essential ways that lead to sustained and systemic change. The type of deliberate learning that needs to occur goes beyond awareness into action, focusing on ‘inclusive skill-building.’ The elements that undergird the Eskalera approach are:

  • Ongoing support – To be effective with diversity efforts, Eskalera understands that people need continual support – to help them use ‘aha’ moments to fuel the ‘doing’ of inclusion.
  • Implementation in the flow of work  – Learning that occurs when people are working allows for relevant day-to-day application, when and where it matters most.
  • Technology supported – Technology allows for scaling the impact (reaching more people faster and with more targeted support). Technology also allows personalization of content to meet people where they are at in their own DEI journey.
  • Behavioral Psychology and Neuroscience framework – It is crucial to consider people’s attention spans and capacity to digest information and remain focused. Using evidence-based research as a basis for developing content was most beneficial in supporting behavioral change through micro-burst of content, and behavioral nudges along the way.
  • Company-wide integration – As mentioned above, inclusive skill-building requires all persons, likewise a DEI lens needs to be integrated into all facets of a company’s HR systems including payroll, L&D, performance management, recruitment and onboarding, this gives you a holistic view of each employee’s experience in the workplace. Full integration allows organizations to impact change from the bottom up and the top down–changing the systemic processes, practices, and behaviors.