Too often we look at Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts as individual efforts. We limit our “change commitment” to our top leaders sitting through a seminar, learning the language, while also frequently tiptoeing around those who are ambivalent to, or trying to change the minds and hearts of those who (silently or vocally) commit to derailing, our change efforts. We frame our efforts in places where they end the moment the wrong people get uncomfortable. We forget that embracing diversity, equity and inclusion necessitates real change, and change is rarely situated in places of absolute comfort.
Systemic approaches to DEI, or approaching DEI as “systemic change work,” means creating a workplace rooted in systems and processes that place outcomes as expectations, not as optional initiatives we hope sticks with each and every member of our team. They demand accountability, transparency, and commitment that goes beyond great sounding messaging with little (or no) actual action. Rather than spaces where those who seek to derail efforts can hide (or worse, thrive), systemic change work recognizes what (and, sometimes, who) stands in the way of meaningful progress, and gives you the framework to keep you moving in the right direction.
Individual change is certainly part of systemic change work. But when we keep focusing our DEI efforts on the individual—on saying the right things, pushing the same leaders into endless training sessions, hoping for their “aha” moments—we usually see the same thing happen: the same words are spoken, and they all sound good, but very little actually CHANGES. Systemic change work is driven by active engagement, and yes, a touch of discomfort, as we embrace the idea that a commitment to DEI is also accountability to DEI.
The success of a company is rarely put on the individual. As we adopt technology, we don’t expect that every team member immediately become both proficient in and proponents of them. We rely on systems, not individuals—our culture, our processes, our leadership, our institutional memory and adaptations—to get the job done and keep growing year after year. Why, then, do we apply a different set of rules to DEI? By approaching DEI systemically, we remind ourselves that what we want are equitable processes, inclusive systems, diverse mechanisms to ensure we are effectively reflective of and operating in service to our customers and team members. Light bulb moments are bright and beautiful … Systemic changes are bright, beautiful, and sustainable.
Here are 5 ways to begin engaging in DEI Systemic Change Work within your organization: