How to Show Real Commitment to DEI

BY Kathy Crosett
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As bad as 2020 has been, one good outcome has been business leaders’ awakening about how to show real commitment to DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion). It’s not enough to support community initiatives about equality. And you're not off the hook because you have a position statement on your corporate website about how you don’t discriminate against candidates when hiring. These days, your prospects, clients and potential new hires are judging your credibility in terms of your actions. Those actions must show your commitment to your stated values. 

Who Are You Hiring?

A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed how corporate clients are now checking out law firms, ad agencies and other professional services groups. They expect to find demonstrated action to support DEI initiatives. If they don’t see diverse professionals working in meaningful positions in these firms, they intend to take their business elsewhere.

 These changes in attitude leave hiring organizations with a challenge. They know when they hire a specific type of candidate, the one that looks, sounds, and acts like them, outcomes are positive. “Many companies don’t want to take the risk of hiring people they have never worked with before, Ms. Marsh said, which limits opportunities for up-​and-​coming lawyers of color.” But if company leaders don’t shift their mindset, nothing will change for real in our culture.

Tsedale Melaku and her co-​workers point to the problem of privilege in their Harvard Business Review article. The privilege of many hiring managers and senior organizational leaders blinds them to the unconscious bias they hold. This problem exists simply because they’ve never had to think about challenges that disadvantaged candidates encounter every day. In reviewing resumes for a sales position, they may worry that a single Black mother may not be able to handle the challenges of a demanding position. And they may decide not to interview her. One way to check the bias is to ask, “Would we be having this conversation about a white man?”

Sales Skills Assessments

As a hiring manager, you can contribute to real change in your organization by insisting that candidates take a sales skills assessment. These assessments measure an individual’s aptitude, motivational tendencies, and behavioral characteristics in the workplace. They don’t depend on the internal network in which a senior executive is trying to get a candidate hired because they’re doing a favor for a friend.

Commitment to DEI

Using a sales skills assessment is only the first step in bringing a marginalized individual into your organization. In many organizations, new employees need a mentor to succeed. These ‘professional allies’ introduce them to their own networks. They’ll also tip them off about important events to attend. And they can suggest the right kind of professional development activities that will polish their skills.

Your new employees need that kind of support from you. They also need to know you have their back. For example, your organization's culture may need a reset. Maybe people have always laughed off a senior exec’s comments about ‘ditzy blondes’ or crude comments that are understood to be ‘all in fun.’ Those comments aren’t fun to the target of the joke. Speak up when it happens in your presence. Your willingness to take a stand shows your co-​worker and your team member that they can count on you.

Change begins with you.