Over the past several months, there have been many articles, forums, discussions, focus groups, and webinars on the need for more diversity and inclusion in every aspect of our business. And while there have been many valuable points made and practices shared, there are three themes that have particularly stood out to me.
1. Diversity and Inclusion is not an HR initiative.
I really appreciate hearing the clear stance that diversity, equity, and inclusion is NOT simply an HR initiative. I absolutely agree that it's not. It's a company value that can only be successful when it begins with executive leadership, whether that means the owner, CEO, president, or leadership team - it starts squarely with them.
Based on a recent Swift Bunny Employee Engagement Study, out of the Top 10 things that matter most to employees, the 3 common topics that are shared between Corporate, Regional and On-Site employees are:
- Senior management creates a positive work environment
- I respect senior management
- Senior management has communicated a clear vision for the company
How executive leadership talks to, talks about, includes, encourages, promotes, challenges, and values each employee is noticed and emulated. Diversity and inclusion begins with them. Human resources certainly manages many key aspects, but their work will never achieve real and enduring change without action from the top.
2. The Importance of a Diversity and Inclusion Employee Survey
I've been very impressed and heartened at the number of multifamily companies who are considering or have already rolled out a Diversity and Inclusion survey. While it can feel intimidating to begin conversations on these sensitive issues, the conversation must begin in order to make any kind of tangible or significant progress. A survey, like the one Swift Bunny conducted for the multifamily industry this fall, can identify not only how employees currently feel their own company is doing in these areas, but which aspects matter most to them. By understanding what the current perceptions are and what is most important to the team, conversations and practical improvements can begin.
3. Small Shifts Can Be Big Bias Interrupters
There are more and more ideas being shared to help each and every employee improve how they address diversity and inclusion in their every day responsibilities. Some of my favorite practical bias interrupters:
- Invite new faces to significant projects, not just the people you are accustomed to working with. Bringing in different team members brings in new perspectives. It also may reveal that certain assumptions are inaccurate, or what you thought was "standard" is actually more the exception than the rule. Better decisions can be made with fresh and new input.
- Pay attention to team communication patterns. Not everyone is comfortable offering their thoughts, especially when one or two participants are allowed to do most of the talking, unchecked. Create and enforce an environment where dominating and interrupting is not allowed and all meeting attendees are invited to weigh in and provide their perspectives.
- Implement a rotation of “office housework” where no one is exempt, i.e. cleaning up after a group meeting, tidying the break room, or ordering lunch. While some people may seem happy to always do it, they shouldn't have to. They have other important things to do, too.
- Intentionally provide equal access as a manager, ensuring that you touch base with every direct report every week. You may say that you have an "open door policy," but that doesn't mean every direct report is comfortable walking in that door without a pre-determined meeting time.
Having a more diverse and inclusive work environment involves such a wide variety of topics, and these themes barely begin to scratch the surface of the challenges, feelings, and obstacles that so many employees face. Real change doesn't happen overnight, and it certainly doesn't happen on its own. It requires focused effort, starting at the top, with participation at every level. Step 1, however, is beginning the conversation with your employees and finding out, "How are we doing?"