Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Work: Personal Ways to Make Meaningful Changes

business startup and teamwork concept - diverse team putting their hands together
By Laura Quaglio

There’s nothing inherently bad about “thoughts and prayers,” wrote Enobong (Anna) Branch, Rutgers’ senior vice president for equity in a letter introducing Rutgers’ Universitywide Diversity Strategic Planning initiative. “[But] when they are only statements of support, when actions and help are needed, they are insufficient,” she explained. “[We] must meet this moment with action.”

One way Rutgers does that is by providing alumni with resources to raise awareness, improve understanding, and create meaningful change. Case in point: John Borgese, director of Alumni Workforce Engagement, launched a webinar series of actionable advice for Rutgers graduates. The first in the series, A Conversation on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—moderated by Lloyd Freeman, chief diversity and inclusion officer at the legal firm Buchanan Ingersoll—features three alumni who are DEI leaders in the fields of sports, travel, and health care. Here are a few highlights:

Treat DEI the same as Profit and Loss. When a company is hemorrhaging money, everyone will do what’s necessary to improve the bottom line. This usually involves forming teams or committees, devoting extra time to examining policies, and revising everyday operations to fix the problem. Replace the word “money” with “talent,” says Freeman CLAW’07. A lack of diverse talent is also an emergency. To prove to employees and clients that a workplace is diverse, equitable, and inclusive will require concerted effort at all levels of the organization. Read more from Freeman on being a DEI ally.

Don’t say nothing when something happens. For many years, issues such as gender, race, and politics were taboo in the workplace. Today, though, it’s important to speak up when people are struggling, particularly if you are in a position of power or privilege, says Veronica Velazquez RBS’14, senior global inclusion and diversity manager at Expedia Group. In summer 2020, leaders who messaged teams about racial injustice received more positive feedback than those who didn’t. Even if you don’t know what to say, you can say, “I acknowledge what’s going on. I know this may be very difficult,” suggests Velazquez. Even better: Offer to adjust workflow, such as deadlines or meetings, to give people time to process what’s happening. Read more from Velazquez on making meetings more inclusive, too.

Prove that feedback won’t prompt retaliation. For leaders looking to improve their approach, the best move is to have an open-door policy, then really listen to what people have to say, says Brenda Wagner RC’91, GSNB’93, chief diversity and inclusion officer at LabCorp. (Don’t defend yourself. Just listen. Take notes. Absorb it. Then decide what to do.) She suggests creating a separate channel for anonymous submissions. At LabCorp, employees send survey responses to human resources, so they won’t be worried about managers being upset or retaliating. To get enough depth and detail, you can provide sample answers with the form. Read more from Wagner on elevating the importance of DEI in any organization.

Embed diversity and inclusion into everything. Many companies are adding special courses and trainings on DEI, but Michele Meyer-Shipp UCN’89, chief people and culture officer for Major League Baseball, recommends integrating these topics into every course. “When it’s a stand-alone, a lot of leaders don’t want to engage, and they don’t understand it’s part of everything they do,” she says. Leading inclusively, she adds, should be a core competency, and leaders should be rewarded and compensated for how well they put it into practice. Of course, DEI is not only for leaders, she adds. “We need all players on the field. This is a shared responsibility.” Read more from Meyer-Shipp on having uncomfortable conversations.