Implementing Equity in the Workplace
If you have been following this blog or any lectures or guest speaking I give, you know the importance of equity constantly comes up in conversation. And, for good reason as equity is necessary to empower others and directly impacts quality of life for everyone. The conversation and implementation of equity is more than just talking points to me, it’s my life’s mandate and now with politics removed from the equation, I am going in even harder. I have seen the successful implementation of equity enrich the lives of young people, educators, families, and employees from entry level to senior management. Likewise, I have also seen organizations and groups that fail to implement systems of equity crumble at their foundation, have a high turnover or burnt out employees, and produce hostile, limited productivity, work environments. I have also seen organizations pretend equity is a focus when systemic racism, sexism, and other -isms are so prevalent throughout the organization. Don’t be fooled; you can have good sales, success, and more and not be aware that you are on borrowed time because your foundation is weak because you failed to invest in and protect your greatest asset – your people through an equity lens or because you failed to keep an eye on the future and prepare for your customers and clients of the future – a browning of America.
Time shows us where the presence of equity is strong or nonexistent. Don’t get the big deal about equity? When a handful of your top people take their skills to your competitor you may get it. When your customers or stakeholders look elsewhere then you may get it. When your business partner pulls out and your organization is missing its key part then you may get it. When your community and media is highlighting and celebrating the contributions of local leaders and your name is omitted you may get it. And when over time success is a rarity because you are the only efficient and passionate person on your team because every single person who took a leap of faith and joined you on your endeavors has moved on after being unheard, unsupported, and hitting that very real glass ceiling you will get it. Let me be clear, a lack of focus on equity in the workplace in less than a decade will be the downfall of several agencies and a clear low bar being met by others.
However, on the contrary, there is a clear alternative. You can empower people, be an opportunity creator, and shatter those daunting glass ceilings as equity means nurturing your human capital – giving folks what they need with a cultural responsive culture that is inclusive of all races and ethnicities and cognizant of the unique contributes of each. A company that successfully implements equity is a winning company and here is how you do it.
Start with your Pipeline
The first step to implementing equity is making sure you are hiring talent fairly and based on qualifications and experience. Seems like an easy thing to do, but what is even easier and happens quite often is hiring someone based on clout, because they are a friend or friend of a friend, because of their appearance, or because they look and sound like you. To avoid this, many hiring managers participate in blind auditions. During a blind audition, you are unaware of a candidate’s race, gender, and appearance and judge them solely based on their professional accomplishments, education, skill set, experience, and objective. Your talent pipeline and new hires must be high quality and you must be able to develop them and work with them without any previously conceived notions or subconscious biases you may have. You also look for untapped talent and potential in all candidates as many of us didn’t see somethings in ourselves that others saw, and leadership blossomed. Additionally, some companies have even taken the bold and much needed step of beginning their equity journey with the Department of Human Resources looking at internal biases that may exist in the recruitment and screening processes and moving along to the supporting and developing efforts to ensure a strong pipeline of quality talent.
Educate your Talent
Your job as a leader is to grow your talent and make sure that their presence does not just help you reach your goals but that you are providing rich learning experiences for your talent to grow, reach and exceed their own goals, both professionally and personally. They are not there to merely check off your daily task boxes even though it can appear that way at times. They are not seat warmers. The goal of a leader is to make them part of the vision. Make them feel valued and give them value. Knowledge really is power. Educate your team in the following ways:
Provide continuous training and development
Sponsor courses and seminars outside of work
Provide access to mentors
Understand what gaps exist or what skills are missing from their resume and provide them with the tools necessary to expand their knowledge
Get to know them and their goals!
Have Yourself Evaluated
If you want a dynamic work culture where your people thrive, it starts with you – the leader. Many companies conduct exit interviews, but I believe executive management interviews are more important. You need to be aware of what you and your colleagues who lead with you need to do to improve and get better. Your definition and plan for equity may differ drastically from them but you won’t know unless you ask. Conducting an upper level management evaluation tells your team you care and are open to change. It gives them a chance for their voices to be heard. Ideal questions to ask during this evaluation are:
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What obstacles do you feel keep you from advancing to your desired career level?
Do you feel safe at work? Not just physically but also professionally safe, which requires the freedom to feel like one can solve problems, provide feedback, and grow into a better person.
Do you feel respected at work?
What can your management team do to understand your goals more and support you toward the attainment of those goals?
What do you need from me?
Every person in the organization may have a different role and function and be at a different pay grade, but the respect and support given should be 100% the same. If you trust each individual, you have chosen then, unless otherwise discussed, allow them a well-deserved seat at the table. You know, the table where innovation happens, visions are discussed, and decisions are made. More importantly, it must be a table that provides a path to advancement. A hierarchy is a hierarchy because it places select people at the top, gives only them access to the companies long-term vision, gives them rewards and perks, and purposefully keeps others in other roles from advancing to their executive level, essentially keeping everyone in their place. It’s sacred, it’s belittling, and it’s unfair. For those who want it, help them create a plan to advancement. And, for those you see potential, hone it, mold it, and cultivate it. If they know they can grow with you, you have gained their loyalty and finest work ethic.
Create and Enforce a Plan of Equity
Because defining equity is easy but implementing it is more of a challenge, you must have a plan to enforce it. Your plan should detail how to hold yourself and others accountable for implementing equity with genuine key performance indicators to monitor and track effort and implementation. This is not just the burden of an entity’s creator, but every leader must protect the established equity. An equity plan will define what equity means to your organization, determine what questions will be asked during evaluations, schedule sensitivity trainings (multiple sessions), set a budget for continuous education and development, assign mentors, etc. Equity will not operate on its own. In has to be intentionally and strategically integrated into your professional space and aligned with a culture that allows everyone to recognize the importance of the work as the work and not just something in addition to the work.
Equity implementation will strengthen your team, protect your human capital investment, produce a dynamic work culture and atmosphere allowing you to provide the best work and products to those you serve. Focus on it now to be prepared for the future you and your organization is striving for and deserves!
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