Jefferson Darrell shares his learnings from running diversity and inclusion audits for companies through his consultancy firm, Breakfast Culture.
While conversations around diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility have continued to happen within organizations, successful implementation has proven more difficult: a recent report found 80% of companies are not being held accountable for EDI, while 76% don’t have any diversity and inclusion goals.
According to Jefferson Darrell of Breakfast Culture, part of the solution is for companies “to take an honest and difficult look inside their own corporate cultures.” He explained that companies should ensure their culture is for everyone and “not just for the insiders or dominant workplace culture.”
Darrell identified five areas companies often neglect when addressing EDI; issues that prevent them from pursuing diversity and inclusion.
1. Data is about talking to people with the goal of understanding where gaps may exist, said Darrell. Companies need to understand the data before developing their strategy and focus areas.
2. Policy is required to make EDI efforts official. Neglecting to create policies will make it harder to be held accountable for EDI goals.
3. Accountability focuses on who is required to do the work. Darrell pointed out that we hardly ever see a “senior executive put in charge.” It’s often more junior women, racialized folks, or LGBTQIA+ people working off “the side of their desk with no support,” said Darrell.
4. Measurement is the next critical piece. Darrell said it’s important to “know where you are and benchmark against that to know how far you can move.”
5. Investment needs to exist in three areas according to Darrell: time, financial, and human resources investments.
Your EDI strategy must be informed by the root issues your organization is facing. Darrell mentioned that “we don’t know what we don’t know,” and making assumptions can lead organizations to focus on the wrong issues. He shared the below example where an organization assumed what their issues were, but they turned out to be completely different.
For example, after George Floyd was murdered by police in the United States in 2020, Darrell said “Breakfast Culture received a lot of requests for EDI audits around racial issues.” However, race wasn’t always the main issue despite it being a main topic of discussion given current events.
In one case, the client asked to talk about race. But after conducting an audit, Breakfast Culture’s team realized the biggest issue was accessibility for employees with disabilities. Prior to the audit, the organization had no inkling that employees with disabilities would be a concern until they wanted to talk about race. The audit proved necessary to reveal the root issue, and was eye-opening for the organization.
From this example, we can learn three lessons:
1. Don’t assume you know what the root issue is.
Assuming you know what your main EDI issues are can misguide your efforts. Darrell advises that you need to “find out where the actual issues are.”
2. Conduct audits and data collection to find the root issue.
Data can reveal issues that you were previously unaware of.
3. Don’t jump to a solution
Darrell explained that “people or organizations get it wrong,” because “they make assumptions and jump to a solution.”
Changing systems to be more inclusive takes time. However, a key way leaders can accelerate the process for individuals on their teams is through mentorship—sharing experiences between people—and sponsorship–when a leader helps a more junior person get growth opportunities.
Listening and empathy are essential for mentors to support EDI goals
Darrell elaborated on two points for mentors to validate that they’re on the right track from an inclusion and diversity perspective. These two pieces will help mentors be more inclusive by listening to understand, and empathizing better.
Listening means “active listening.” Darrell continued that “we tend to listen to respond versus actively listening to understand.” He said understanding this difference is a “key piece for mentors.”
Empathy for Darrell is about trying to “put yourself in the other person’s shoes and [trying] to walk.” He explained that “one of the only ways to achieve empathy is by listening.” He knows it sounds easier than it is to really listen, but further emphasizes why it’s important to understand instead of focusing on responding or countering.
“We focus too much on mentorship and not enough on sponsorship,” cautioned Darrell. He said that people don’t understand there’s a “nuanced difference” between the two.
Mentorship can include encouraging a person to apply for a more senior role or coaching someone to get a particular role.
Sponsorship, on the other hand, is about saying “I’m going to go to bat for you.” Sponsorship can include mentorship activities but goes a step further. For example, sponsorship can include speaking to the hiring manager and providing an endorsement beyond encouraging someone to apply.
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