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Advancing Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in 2021: Leaders Must Lead!

    Client Alerts
  • January 14, 2021

Dealing with race in the workplace became a central focus of many employers last year because of the outcry over police brutality against African Americans and widespread protesting related to racial injustice and systemic racism. Employer responses took many forms but often included diversity, inclusion, and equity components. As companies begin executing their goals for 2021, now is an important time to maintain momentum on these initiatives – and for company leadership to prioritize them. 

First, leaders should get a candid assessment of the progress the company made in the past year on diversity, inclusion, and equity. This assessment should include a review of any setbacks. Even with the best of intentions, these initiatives often face challenges tied to employees’ time and the company’s budget. If a company hasn’t been able to get initiatives off the ground, now is the time for leaders to pick those back up and take responsibility for moving them forward. 

Along those lines, leaders have to talk the talk and walk the walk. If the management team is not proactively sending the message about the importance of these initiatives, requiring participation in trainings, and listening to employees to understand their concerns, nothing is likely to change in their organization. And if that messaging is lukewarm or halfhearted, it will fall flat. Employees can tell when leaders fully embrace these initiatives. To that point, leaders should ensure they have heard from and incorporated the thoughts of employees in the programming they push out. Otherwise they could come up with tone-deaf messaging that no one buys into.

Company leadership also plays a critical role in supporting their human resources professionals who are in the trenches on these issues. When HR recommends disciplining an employee for inappropriate statements or actions but is overruled by the employee’s supervisor, that sends a clear message to others in the organization. Leaders need to prevent that from happening and empower HR to enforce the company’s policies. (You can find more from us on using employment policies to deal with race here.) 

Leaders should also take responsibility for ensuring their employees are getting the opportunities for advancement and the salaries that are appropriate for them. Have leaders received a report breaking down advancement and salary changes in 2020 by race, sex, and other protected characteristics? Regular monitoring of these metrics is essential to uncover blind spots and create a more equitable workplace. A position-based pay audit can be a good place to start, as we wrote previously.

Those are just a few of the steps leaders can take to drive diversity, inclusion, and equity in their organizations. By digging in on these issues now, leaders can set the tone for their companies and continue moving the ball forward in 2021.