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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

What to Do When You're Gaining Momentum with DEI in Your Organization

This is a guest blog by The Acacia Company.

“Once we recognize we can feel deeply, we can love deeply, we can feel joy, then we will demand that all parts of our lives produce that kind of joy.” - AUDRE LORDE

What to Do When You're Gaining Momentum with DEI in Your Organization

It is hard for organizations to build inertia and reach the point where their invested time and resources seem to reap increasing returns on their own. This Flywheel Effect, coined by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great,” is applicable for accelerating success in business and nonprofits alike and can also be applied when considering how to implement a sustainable diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.

Everyone wants to make inclusive behavior the norm and reach the point where DEI is a part of everyday decision making. But what does it actually take to make it happen?

This post focuses on key actions to take during the stage of DEI implementation where organizations have gone beyond the basics and DEI initiatives are really starting to gain momentum.

Many organizations make the mistake of rushing into projects that don’t make sense for their reality and after a year or two, these well-meaning intentions rarely amount to real change. It’s necessary to equip your teams with the skills they need to implement effective, sustainable DEI strategies, which might mean going back and doing the work to build a more solid foundation.

See our last blog that outlines tips for organizations just starting their DEI journey.

As the level of competency for DEI increases across your organization, projects that were once grassroots initiatives should have more structure and conversations about DEI should become more advanced. We call this stage of DEI development, the “Gaining Momentum” stage. It’s when organizations have amplified the need for DEI and have successfully established a foundational level of acknowledgement across the organization, where most employees can effectively notice and name instances of oppression. It also means that you are ready for more high-stakes work and are setting the groundwork for more scalable DEI solutions.

The actions outlined below are for organizations that are ready to build the scaffolding that allows for sustainable change:

1. Secure executive sponsorship - The support of one executive leader will help you advocate for more resources and visibility for DEI. The personal commitment of an entire board of executive leaders will allow you to establish a formal budget for DEI and scale DEI initiatives across different departments and levels. Research on organizational change estimates that companies and nonprofits need at least 75% of their leadership team to be bought-in in order to see sustainable shifts. If your DEI efforts are primarily driven by employees, the road to systemic change might be longer. Integrating DEI into an organization’s policies and everyday practices, means making sure the people at the top are willing to put their name behind making it happen. 

2. Communicate an authentic connection to DEI  - These days, DEI mission statements are starting to look generic. Take the time to think about the historical and cultural context that your organization operates in, its advantages and privileges, and how it has benefitted from the marginalization of the BIPOC community, the disabled community, the trans and nonbinary community, from imperialism and colonialism, and more. Use that context to inform how you can dismantle oppression in your space. Your DEI action plan should consider how your organization's resources and privilege can be leveraged to advance equity and justice. There are many ways to make a difference. We don’t need copy-and-pasted DEI action plans - we need everyone to do their part.

3. Track progress - Set goals, KPIs, and metrics to hold yourselves accountable to how much is actually improving in the organization. Especially as you are working to create more formal structure, creating DEI goals and metrics allows you to operationalize DEI projects. At the end of the day this work is about connecting on a human level. Remember that behind every statistic is a real person with hopes, dreams, and real barriers due to living in an unjust world. As you set goals, incorporate different perspectives and center the needs, demands, and self-determination of marginalized communities. 

4. Prioritize increasing capacity and resources - Organizations at this stage should be shifting away from relying on passionate employees to coordinate DEI work next to their jobs, to hiring externally or promoting internal talent for full-time DEI roles. Advocate for making DEI a formal part of employee job responsibilities and prioritize ways to reward, recognize, and compensate internal DEI leaders for their work. Consider how to give DEI leaders the necessary authority and autonomy to make real changes. Additionally, allow people to work on DEI during work hours and remove barriers to participation and leadership for DEI efforts. Provide more opportunities to involve employees in DEI planning, focus groups, and leadership opportunities.

5. Upskill middle managers, team leaders, and ERG leaders - The people who lead your teams and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are the front line of executing your DEI strategy. They are responsible for actually implementing DEI initiatives, facilitating conversations and answering questions about DEI with their teams, and representing the organization’s stance to employees. Having a DEI-centered leadership development program is key to ensuring that your DEI ambitions don’t stop when it’s time to put things into action.

This stage of DEI development is when it is important to take risks, challenge the status quo, and put significant effort and resources behind DEI initiatives.

Here are a few common pitfalls that leaders make at this stage of DEI development:

  • Failing to include diverse perspectives when identifying and understanding the root causes behind systemic issues.

  • Stopping or abandoning DEI goals at the first sign of negative pushback or mistakes.

  • Taking comfort in not being “the worst” organization out there and getting complacent by being somewhat “better” than others. 

  • Burning out passionate employees by expecting too much without providing enough resources, recognition, and/or compensation.

  • Getting caught up in the minutiae for many DEI initiatives and forgetting about the bigger picture: equitable outcomes.

  • Wasting resources by having duplicative efforts due to a lack of centralized communication and coordination across different DEI initiatives. For example, having multiple groups focused on equitable compensation instead of coming together to work on it.

  • Creating plans and initiatives without considering the impact or equitable outcomes across demographics.

  • Failing to incorporate structures that ensure transparency and accountability between leadership, staff, and other stakeholders. 

As organizations are striving to create more structural, organization-wide changes, the challenges they run into are different. At the moment, these challenges may feel overwhelming but rest assured that if the problems feel more sophisticated, it's because your organization is progressing.

It is easy to rush into this work and act without intention, so take the time for learning and define your personal connection to DEI. If you are ready to take the next step towards sustainable and transformational change but need help gaining momentum, reach out to the team at The Acacia Company.

Ponder this...

  • Where might our actions be performative right now? Where might we be holding back in relation to DEI efforts?

  • How equipped are our middle managers to guide their teams in discussions and making changes regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion? What more could be possible if middle managers were able to confidently support their teams and champion this change?

Keep exploring this concept with these resources...

This article introduces a research-backed model for developing diversity, equity, and inclusion in an organization called the Values/Principles Model. It speaks to how to increase employee satisfaction and create avenues for all employees to engage in DEI work so that efforts are community-driven and sustainable over time. 

DEI work is often about removing systemic barriers and creating environments where all people can thrive. This report highlights the role of workplaces in our society and how workplace experiences can impact the lives of individuals and the trajectory of their futures. Workplaces are a channel for unlocking new possibilities for equity and the values we aspire to. Not all companies are great at developing their employees but with the right tools, more workplaces can be a channel for human growth and development. 

Trans individuals face devastating consequences with their job satisfaction, turnover intentions, and emotional wellbeing due to the stigma and discrimination faced in the workplace. This article highlights tangible actions on how to effectively attract, retain, and promote the health and success of trans people and build a more inclusive workplace.


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