Guest Commentator: Twana Harris, Senior Consultant, Business Practice Leader for Inclusion & Diversity and Leadership Development, Exude @Exudeinc

How can businesses follow up their statements advocating for social justice with actions that benefit our region’s underrepresented communities?

One of the most poignant statements I’ve heard recently is “don’t call for peace unless you also push for justice.”  Well known to all of us is the necessity for action, for it truly speaks loudly. It’s unfortunate that national and corporate statements of “commitment to diversity and inclusion” as well as “we stand with the black community” are falling on deaf ears as we watch our country explode in outrage against the historically unequal and violent treatment of people of color.  It’s far too burdensome to always be the denigrated group struggling for the basic human right of safety and equity. This is prevalent in society and in the workplace.

Boards, CEOs, and executive leaders must act upon their commitment to inclusion and drive rapid change through the ranks of their organizations. If this does not happen, declarations and vision statements around diversity and inclusion become empty platitudes to employees.

In my work helping leaders transform workplace culture, I often hear that they’re not sure what to do to make inclusion a reality. They have a strategy and have put some resources in place, but they’re not seeing the kind of change they know is essential for social responsibility and business profitability. A mistake often made is that the responsibility for meeting diversity and inclusion objectives is left to either a leader who is not a diversity, equity, and inclusion expert, or to an under-resourced diversity leader who does not have a position of power to hold all leaders accountable for change. No real change will be accomplished in either scenario andwhen employees see the inconsistency in what you say and what you do, trust is broken. This is why your words and commitments no longer matter!

So, where do we go from here?

Recent events, while shocking and saddening, offer boards, CEOs, and executive leaders a new opportunity to review their current state of inclusion and change course to drive necessary change. Here are three things that you can do right now to put action to your words and transition your organization:

  1. Identify an internal or external Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion expert to move your efforts forward.
    • If internal, give the person the resources (staff, budget, etc.) and support what they require to drive change. Appoint them an influential C-Suite sponsor who is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion to partner with on holding the entire organization accountable for driving change.
    • If external, give the consultant access to your leaders and employees so that they can identify the state of the culture, leaders, and blockers to true inclusion, and provide you with a go-forward, action-oriented strategy that moves you from checking the box to real change. An external consultant can also provide your diversity leader with confidential coaching and counseling support to help them navigate and drive change more effectively.
  2. Build accountability loops for all leaders to drive sustainable behavioral change.
    • A critical step in accomplishing organizational change is to clearly communicate expectations and really hold leaders accountable to the point of determining if all of your leaders “fit” your organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and take action if they don’t.
    • It’s time to make your inclusion objective as important as every other business objective. We can no longer allow this to be put on the back burner.
  3. Touch base with every employee. Yes, every employee.
    • Know your people, what is happening to each of them, and where necessary, change their situation immediately. This will positively impact their performance and your profitability.
    • Most employees will not tell you they’ve been “treated differently, unfairly, and discriminated against;” instead, they leave (physically or psychologically). This attrition is extremely costly and presents a critical risk. Your brand reputation will be besmirched and may never recover. Additionally, the cost of replacing the lost talent is at least fifty-percent of their annual salary. This is akin to throwing thousands of dollars into an incinerator for each person who leaves your organization, as well as all your marketing dollars.

The Chamber’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

At the Chamber, we believe that we must, as a business community, collectively confront the systemic racism that has created a divide in our country and threatens the lives of the African American community.

Today, and forever more, we must be clear in our call for equal justice under the law and the end of systematic racism, police brutality, and economic injustice. This is why the Chamber and our members have are standing by our commitment to equity today and forever more.