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"When top leaders are okay with the discomfort of asking tough questions such as “who is not represented here?” and are committed to taking action, disruption occurs. Thus, the foundation for a work environment where people feel valued and included is laid out."
Change Management Consultant, Change Leadership Coach, and Speaker - Zu Dietzenbach speaks to the discomfort of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work in corporations that opens the door to transformation and breathes change.
Growing up in Brazil, I have been aware of my race since I was aware of myself. Being the youngest of five children, I have heard my mom always telling us that we should be better. We should do more and look in a certain way just to be accepted by a society that judges us by the color of our skin.
Fast forward to my adulthood, I still find myself trying to be better, walking the extra mile and going above and beyond to prove to the world that I have value.
I worked for corporate America basically my entire career. I have seen many initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, such as recruiting, business resources networks, succession planning, etc. They seemed good on paper, but I never felt like those initiatives made a difference for me. It always felt wrong how I was perceived or considered for promotion, for example. No matter how hard I tried, I was still always on the sidelines. I was never good enough. No one cared to see me and recognize the impact and value I brought to the table.
I do not think it was intentional. I think they wanted to be fair and equal. But unfortunately, their good intentions were not enough. Their good intentions never made any difference to me. For any diversity and inclusion initiative to succeed, good intentions must get translated into actions that will have a real impact. It is necessary that we move out of our complacent behavior and take actions that will remove deep-rooted structures that silently hurt minorities. We need not only to have open conversations but also to implement corrective actions that eliminate practices that work against those at a disadvantage.
These actions will feel disturbing, uncomfortable, and awkward sometimes, but this is the only way. Discomfort opens the door to transformation. Disruption breathes change.
I’ve seen companies inviting keynote speakers to talk about diversity. With that, they think they are checking the box. They believe that they took a significant step in embracing diversity, and that is all. But that is not enough. Keynote speakers are a great starting point, but changes can only occur when leaders are committed and accountable to take actions to bring belonging and inclusion to all levels of the organization.
When top leaders are okay with the discomfort of asking tough questions such as “who is not represented here?” and are committed to taking action, disruption occurs. Thus, the foundation for a work environment where people feel valued and included is laid out.
I have seen many diverse hires coming in and leaving through the same door. For some reason, the intention was good, but there were no practices to make them feel like they belong. Diversity is good, but it is only the starting point. Hiring diverse people is easy; anyone can do it. The difficult part is to go a step further, making sure these people feel accepted and have everything they need to succeed and thrive.
It is essential to say that no significant lasting change will occur in the absence of visible and committed leadership. Disruptive changes need to start at the top and cascade down to the rest of the organization. No diversity effort will yield results if every single leader of the company does not embrace it. This level of disruptive change requires leaders who embrace the discomfort of the transformation process and keep pushing towards the end goal.
But why effective Diversity & Inclusion efforts can feel so drastic and disruptive sometimes?
1. Because it challenges the status quo.
We all like our comfort zones and we all struggle with the unknown. No one likes discomfort or distress. Trying to puzzle out all the long-time injustice and unfairness deeply rooted in a company’s culture and values can be daunting. The commitment to deal with the real issues around diversity and inclusion may put us in a place of awkwardness and anxiety. But it takes courage and bravery to look at the eyes of oppression (which we all have experienced in some way or another) and take a stand to stop it. It requires boldness to recognize that it has been long enough, allowing invisible practices and beliefs to hurt others.
2. Because it requires real commitment and accountability.
Taking responsibility for one’s actions is not always easy. It is much more comfortable to have discussions and never go beyond that. But good intentions alone will not make an impact. Creating policies to promote equality in the workplace alone is also not enough. It is necessary actions to remove the invisible structures that perpetuate it. It is essential to allocate enough resources. It requires moving beyond theoretical conversations that we are so used to and start to take real corrective actions that can make an impact to eliminate discrimination and biases. When leadership sets goals for themselves and others and make a genuine commitment to change, the results will follow. We achieve more when we set targets. It may take years for an organization to make a significant improvement on diversity and inclusion. But when leaders hold themselves accountable to eliminate practices and traditions that hurt minorities, the result will be visible in time.
3. Because it involves letting go of our self-absorbed ways for the greater good.
Our natural tendency is to always look after our personal interests and the interest of those we favor. It is counter-intuitive to most of us to put aside our selfish ways and consider the benefit of someone else. Embracing diversity, inclusion, and equity means giving up some of our privileges for the goodness of others. It means allowing someone else to be seen and heard. This alone is a shift in paradigm and a struggle at the same time. It requires the willingness to change. I once heard a story of a CEO that shut down an entire (very profitable) program after one of the stakeholders said that it was a racist program. This leader wasn’t worried about revenue or about what others would say. He took action that was the best for others. That’s what commitment to diversity and inclusion should look like.
Diversity and Inclusion will not happen without disrupting our comfort zone and without us moving away from a place of complacency. Conversations alone will not cause the impact and the lasting results our people need. Leaders who are brave enough to hold themselves and others accountable to take actions are the ones who truly make a difference towards a more equitable workplace. It is time to take action; let us be okay with being uncomfortable. Only disruptive actions can make a real difference to those who are for too long feeling excluded, discriminated against, and underrepresented.
Zu is PROSCI® and Change Management Professional Certified (CCMP™) with extensive experience utilizing Change Management methodologies, tools, and discipline to guarantee successful delivery and adoption of business priorities.
She worked for Bayer for over 19 years, holding roles with a wide range of responsibilities in the areas of Finance, Global Trade and Compliance, and Supply Chain. As a Change Manager, she coached leaders on how to lead change and engage employees, as well as, implemented several multi-million dollar global projects that required change with people, processes, and tools.
Today she is the proud owner of Change Management Consulting LLC, a Consulting Company with a mission to help leaders and organizations to implement smooth, hassle-free, and lasting changes.