5 Questions to Support Building Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace

diverse group of people
Acumen Executive Search aspires to conduct highly inclusive and equitable searches for new executive leaders who help our client organizations thrive. We approach this work with humility and an orientation towards continuous learning and training.

Over the last several months, we have been outlining some of our processes and lessons learned as related to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. We wanted to share a few questions that might spur discussion within your organizations.

Do your job requirements limit applicants that have not had the same opportunities as others? For example, if you require previous executive level experience, are you unintentionally limiting the pool, as historically women or people from marginalized communities have not always had opportunities to access these leadership roles. If your role requires executive-level leadership experience, is there another way for a candidate to demonstrate these skills other than through a specific executive-level leadership role in your industry? Possibly leadership of a volunteer organization or of a division? Can the gap be addressed by allowing the candidate to partner with an executive coach or by providing mentorship through professional leadership groups?

Do you make it a priority to build community with groups outside your immediate circle? Encourage executives and all employees to be a part of the community and give back. Learn from, support, or start groups that promote equity (a level playing field) for underserved, vulnerable, or marginalized populations. Volunteer at schools or workforce development programs. Join associations or community groups. We often talk about the “people you know” bias, meaning if all your network looks like you and you are pulling from this network for new hires, are you really getting the benefits of diverse perspectives and people with particular lived experience in your organization?  It is the right thing to do, employees will value this opportunity, and this builds authentic and long-term connections to various communities.

Are you seeking to understand privilege? These TED Talks offer a crash course on what it means to have privilege — from race and class to education, health, and beyond.

Acumen Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion lead, Molly Norton, provided some input regarding racial privilege that was very straightforward: “racial privilege is acknowledging that while you may have had a difficult life, your life has not been made harder because of the color of your skin.”

She also goes on to state: “While marginalized groups are not a monolith, many people of color especially those who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, other People of Color) have faced historical and generational traumas that still affect POC today – including lack of generational wealth, generational poverty, unfair laws and treatment, behavioral health and physical health disparities, and other disparities. Those from the LGBTQIA+ community have also faced centuries of trauma that still affect people today. The field of epigenetics supports that ancestral trauma lives in our genes and can have health implications going back more than a dozen generations. It’s important to understand these inequities and being equitable does mean being equal – it means giving people a “leg up” where it makes sense to address historical and other inequities.”

Are you implementing programs to reduce bias in your interview process? Even with the best intentions, our unconscious biases impact the interview process. It is important to have an open discussion about all aspects of the hiring process and address ways to do better. Here are a few resources:

Do you have responsibilities that are suited to a supported employee? Individuals with disabilities can be a strong addition to your team and there are services to help you figure out how to adapt roles or carve out a partial role to make your workplace more inclusive. Nikki Wegner, CEO of Chinook Enterprises, shared “While working with employers we often use a technique called job carving or customized employment, where we identify entry-level tasks that are currently being performed by a highly compensated employee but could be done by a newer, Supported Employee. Those tasks become the core duties of a new entry-level job (full-time or part-time). When this happens, the other employee is freed up to spend more energy on core tasks essential to the business.” Chinook Enterprises helps source candidates, conducts on-the-job interviews to match candidate skills to roles, and provides staff that assists in adapting responsibilities in Skagit County, WA. Like services in other areas across the U.S. can be found at www.apse.org.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are complex arenas of understanding, integration, and operationalization. These are just a few ideas that we hope help you look at hiring and equitable work environments through a new lens. We challenge ourselves and everyone to make a commitment to continuous improvement in building more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforces.

By Kate Kanapeaux & Molly Norton