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IDEAS

  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

I like fireworks. I love getting together with family and friends to enjoy a summertime celebration. And a long weekend is always welcome. So on the whole, the July 4 holiday is okay with me.

As for Independence Day—the reason we take July 4th off of work—my feelings are mixed. On the one hand, I honor the epochal fight that the American colonists waged for freedom from colonial rule. Their victory signaled an era of Enlightenment ideals about human rights and democracy moving closer to reality.

And yet, those ideals have not become reality. Despite what many of us were taught in school, they weren’t even fully expressed by the men we credit for founding this country.

Yes, the Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson wrote says that “all men are created equal.” But of course, he and the other property-owning white men in Philadelphia had a very different definition of “all” than we have today. One that would not have included me.

So, along with the cookout, I spent some of this holiday weekend reflecting on all who were excluded from that declaration. Every woman on the continent. Every kidnapped and tortured African. Every human being living on the land before the Europeans arrived with disease and violence. According to the revolutionaries we celebrate on the 4th, none of these millions of people had inalienable rights endowed by their creator. I honor those whose independence went undeclared in 1776.

And I see that year as only part of the story of our country, a prelude to the Constitution these same men would write a decade later. This hallowed document wrote the rights of a majority of people out of existence—and set a trap that would block these rights for centuries. The framers constructed a process that could broaden the group included in the protections of the Constitution, yes. But it stacked the odds, requiring an Amendment to be approved by Congress and ratified by two thirds of the states.

The United States, granting its landmark freedoms to its ruling class, built a system that legally enslaved, oppressed, and excluded Black people, Indigenous Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx Americans, women, other gender minorities, the poor—everyone other than land-owning cisgender white men like its founders.

That is our nation’s original sin that continues to shame us today. Just this month, the Supreme Court claimed a Constitutional basis to deny women control of our bodies. A hard-fought battle for this freedom was won almost 50 years ago, and now five men and one woman have rolled it back.

We’ve seen this pattern before, recently with voting rights. It took a Civil War to ratify amendments preventing enslavement—with a brutal exception that has led to mass incarceration, and a social backlash that maintained white supremacy in every institution in society.

Conservatives and their Supreme Court judges say they want to return to the ideals on which this nation was founded. They are succeeding. We have a republic that preserves the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of the founding fathers and those like them. And it leaves the rest of us unprotected and unbelonging.

So, this Fourth of July, I enjoyed the fun and community. And, like the great American Frederick Douglass, I also mourned the cruelty and narrowness of the “independence” we settle for while remaining hopeful of our ability to create change and achieve the promise of an America for all of us.


  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

Picture it: your organization, in a few years, when your DEI journey is underway. You’ve undergone an assessment, a strategic planning process, and thoughtful staff development. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are beginning to be embedded into your organization. How do you know?


Because the diversity of your people is an ongoing source of value, both for your business or mission and for the people themselves.


Can you picture that? If you can, hold on to that vision—it will serve you well as a leader.


But if it’s more abstract to you, that’s okay. So many of us really have no visceral sense of how DEI work will pay off or how to do it.


Before you begin to work on your plan there is a crucial step that will show you exactly how much of a difference diversity will make in your success. That step is assembling your strategic planning task force.


In a way, assembling and managing this group is one of the first tests of your DEI leadership, because the group has to be diverse itself. You need to be able to hear from a truly representative group of employees—all levels, all roles, all identities—in order for your plan to succeed.


People with different tenures, not just the company elders. A range of ages, from about-to-retire to first-job-out-of-college. Pull from every department—management, front-line workers, facilities, back office, all of it. And of course, find demographic diversity: folks who bring as wide a range of genders, orientations, ethnicities, and races with them. As a leader, you shouldn’t think that you know all the ways employees experience your organization. By bringing a diverse team together, they will bring the wisdom based on their experiences and help you create the best plan for the organization.


Now, this task force may look and feel different from other strategic planning groups you’ve been part of. And the make-up of the group isn’t the only thing that might feel like a departure. Often when people do strategic plans for their business, it’s top-down. Leadership sets the vision and priority areas, and the job of implementation cascades down the hierarchy.


This can be appropriate in some types of planning—but not for DEI. The mix of people providing input in this task force should truly be working together to set the goals. That special factor shapes the end result in ways you cannot produce with a homogenous team. When you adopt ideas from people you haven’t heard from before, you meet needs you weren’t aware of and make changes that solve broader issues.


It’s also the key to following through. Your chances of success are much higher when you engage in an inclusive process like this one than if you hire a DEI expert to create a plan for you. That’s because when people in the organization have a hand in the development of a plan, they are more bought in. When they carry it out, they recognize their institutional knowledge in the plan and build on it. Conversely, when they are asked to execute something they had no part in and which fails to acknowledge the experience (and experiences) they have had, they may feel unrecognized—as if the work they have already contributed isn’t acknowledged.


Aside from the make-up of the task force and the focus on their ideas and leadership, a DEI strategic planning process will be familiar. Team-building, benchmarking, visioning, small-group brainstorming, synthesis, committees—then polishing and releasing it to the whole organization so that people can integrate the work.


The process itself may not be that different for you. It’s the diverse, inclusive team that makes it special.


If you succeed, you’ll have a road map to follow and a high-priority starting point. You will also have an important proof point. The experience of making decisions informed by your people’s diversity will have brought new ideas and stronger follow-through. Remember that feeling—and get used to it. There will be a lot more of it as you increase your organization’s equity and inclusion!

  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

So you have a commitment to move your organization toward greater diversity, inclusion, and equity. Your leadership is on board. You have allocated resources and time to match the level of importance you know it has. You are ready to go on a challenging journey.


Before you set out on the road, though, you need to find out where you are on the map. That’s where assessment comes in.


Getting a clear picture of your organization’s current state—how diverse, inclusive, and equitable you currently are (or aren’t)—is an essential step. It allows you to identify the most urgent issues to address and the strengths to build on. You’ll access quantitative and qualitative data that can yield rich insights about your culture and policies. A successful assessment pays off for years, guiding your strategy, leadership, and even your day-to-day routines.


That is, if the assessment is successful. Delicate adjustments can mean the difference between hearing candid feedback from a range of people—and hearing crickets.


These outcomes depend on a wide range of factors…as detailed as the grammar of survey questions, as prosaic as the logistics of scheduling focus groups, or as subtle as a leader’s tone of voice.


But what all these things ultimately come down to is one word: trust.


The level of trust in your organization is the single most important factor in the effectiveness of DEI assessments. Every employee has a gut-level relationship with their employer. We are willing, and even excited, to offer feedback and perspective when that relationship is positive. But when we don’t believe deep down that the organization has our best interest at heart, we hesitate before speaking up.


This anxiety is especially high for employees with experience being marginalized at work. If you’ve seen people retaliated against for criticizing a boss, you will be slow to raise your hand. And if you are at all economically insecure, your risk calculation has very high stakes.


That’s the worst case. Other times, staff just don’t feel strongly about their workplace at all. They don’t trust because they don’t feel investment. Why put in the time to fill out a survey if I’ve never felt any attachment to the organization’s success?


This creates a daunting paradox. In order to assess the level of trust, we would need to hear from employees. But in order to hear from employees, they have to have a high level of trust. The more critical the need for change, the harder it will be to identify that need.


But there is good news. Even if employee trust is not as high as you want, the process of carefully implementing an assessment can itself increase the trust. In other words, the vicious circle can become a virtuous cycle.


Here are five steps to a successful DEI assessment. Each one, done well, can be an important driver of trust. Employees who might have held back might reconsider, based on their experience with the assessment process itself. Or conversely, if done clumsily, these steps can erode whatever trust existed before, doing more damage. Step carefully!


  1. Take the pulse on the current state of trust. Is anything particular happening in the organizational culture or operations that has brought people together—or brought them stress? Are there indicators of tension and distrust showing up in HR complaints, lawsuits, or union interactions? And if you have done surveys in the past, be sure to review those results for indicators of engagement. Since I mentioned surveys…did you share the results of previous surveys with staff? If not, that’s a potential red flag. See #5.

  2. Form a DEI assessment working group. The assessment process, when it runs smoothly, takes three to four months from kick-off to final report. There should be an all-staff survey so that everyone can provide input and focus groups that some employees will participate in. Along the way are many decisions that send signals that employees pick up. You should not make these decisions on your own. It is crucial that you assemble a working group represent different roles and identities within the organization. They can help to plan things like the best times to hold focus groups and how the groups should be formed. This group’s insights into the organization help inform the questions for the focus groups and surveys. And they can help to generate interest and participation in the assessment.

  3. Engage your population. How you let your team know that this work is coming is a pivotal opportunity to build trust—or squander it. Center your communication on the “why” questions. Share your personal story about what is driving your DEI leadership. The medium matters too. One size doesn’t fit all. An email announcement or a town hall? That depends on how your organization communicates. And don’t assume there is only one way. Many organizations have subgroups that can’t use email as regularly because they are on their feet, like clinicians, security, or maintenance. How do you make sure they know about the process? Take advantage of all-staff meetings or retreats and work the assessment milestones into the agendas. Consider incentives to increase participation, like awarding T-shirts, gift cards, or an ice cream party to every department with more than 75% participation. And have your timeline finalized when you announce the project. You want to be able to start signing people up for focus groups right after the town hall or email blast. We recommend you go as far as laying out a specific timeline and even schedule a date for the release of the findings. This sets up another opportunity for trust-building: stick to the schedule, and employees know how seriously you take this.

  4. Organize demographic-based focus groups. The groups might be of like race, age, gender, seniority, or something else—we ask clients which groups might feel marginalized at their organization, and we send a list of possible categories to aid their thinking. We’ve had focus groups differentiating by sexual orientation, or for caregivers, or for immigrants. You might have a single group for all BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color), or your organization might be large and diverse enough to break out Black, Latinx, Asian, or multiracial demographics. Your working group can help to determine the right focus group formation. Once you’ve made the decision, be prepared to answer a lot of questions about this. Some people don’t understand why it is a good practice. Again, it’s about trust. It’s not that everyone with the same identity feels the same way, but we have found that people will speak more openly when they are with others who share their identity. Practice explaining this. When employees ask, “Why is this about race,” it’s an important test. Your people (especially people of color) will be assessing you to see if you are set up to take their point of view seriously.

  5. Present the findings. Once you launch, the assessment process should move with purpose. A midsize organization might have 10-20 focus groups; ideally, we would get those done within two weeks. My team then takes about a month to analyze the notes and the survey results, and presents an initial report to leadership and to the working group. But whatever the results, there is one more major opportunity to build trust: sharing the report with the whole organization. This is a key moment. In fact, we won’t engage in a cultural assessment if you don’t plan to share the findings with the whole organization. It’s not reasonable to ask people to take their time and give their feedback and not share what you learn. Being transparent, including about data that reveals problems, drives trust. Even an unhappy employee can feel heard and begin to restore their relationship. Conversely, when companies have kept the findings under wraps, even loyal and enthusiastic employees may wonder why their colleagues’ opinions are being kept secret—and imagine the worst.

The assessment isn’t over until the company has heard and begun to process the findings. Now you have located yourself on the map. Wherever you are in terms of inclusion and belonging, the experience of assessing—if done well, from planning to communication to execution—can be a catalyst for trust-building. You will have set a standard for listening and responding to staff input, cultivating confidence that can transfer into the next stage of DEI: planning the journey with a strategy.


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