Updated: Jan 16
My friend texted me a few days ago. The text said:
“Am I a prophet or what? Our [redacted] just asked me to craft a statement for them. Let’s ask the token black guy to do this for us vs just express yourself as an organization as to how “You” feel.”
What’s happening here?
In light of current events, some [white] leaders in the engineering and environmental arenas are trying to figure out what to do. Some leaders feel compelled to make a statement. Perhaps that’s you.
I sit at the intersection of engineering and water. Today, women make up about 20% of those who earn all the Bachelors degrees in engineering in the US. Black and African Americans (men and women) make up just 4%. Compare those to actual population percentages in the US: women 50.8%, and Black and African Americans 13.4%.
The picture isn’t better for other underrepresented groups in engineering, either.
It’s easy to see we have a lack-of-diversity plight. Connected and critical to understand are the underlying inequity and inclusion problems.
Let’s break down what we’re talking about here - DE&I in the professional world. Diversity in your business or organization means you have broad representation across characteristics like race, ethnicity, nationality, but also things like socioeconomic status, marital status, age, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical ability…
Equity means - regardless of characteristics listed above, team members have the same access to fair treatment, opportunity, and advancement. It also means that leadership prioritizes identifying and eliminating barriers that have prevented underrepresented peoples access in the past and today. Put another way, it’s not enough that you hire diverse staff and believe you are treating them equal today. Equity means leadership is committed to learning the things that have held people back in the past and continue to today, and is committed to correcting those things in the organization now and into the future.
Achieving Inclusion means that regardless of characteristic, all of those groups we mentioned in the Diversity category can authentically bring their full selves to work and be fully welcomed and embraced. It means *everyone on the team has psychological safety, a factor shown to correlate strongly with team success.
Leaders in technical fields owe it to their team members, and future generations, to commit to DE&I in its entirety. This is a long journey that’s going to take: time, difficult conversations, honest reflection, sustained action, and (yes) money.
Outsiders may be happy to read your new statements and to see new commitments in this arena. When people look at your statements, though, we are reading between the lines.
How firm is your statement on equity and inclusion? Where are you committing to specific actions? Where can we watch the progress of those commitments?
For trade organization leaders in particular - the non-profits that thrive on company and individual memberships - how are you choosing to lead the way? With your enormous platform to literally push entire industries in the right direction, how are you leading leaders to create equitable workplaces that foster the inclusive and diverse workforce of the future?
You say we need the best and brightest in STEM, particularly in the water and energy sectors -- I wholeheartedly agree! You have many allies in that statement. How can we work together to ensure those best and brightest get an equitable seat at the table?
Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not.” --Leila Janah
Your organization needs help. Here are several resources your company or organization can hire:
1. Lily Zheng - Lily is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review. She is an organization consultant with expertise in DE&I. She had this to say recently about creating real change in businesses:
"Thinking about bringing in a Chief Diversity Officer to “own” diversity, equity, and inclusion work at your company?
Don’t do that.
Diversify your board instead, then tie the salary of every executive leader to the company’s progress on DE&I goals.
You’ll create collective ownership real quick."
2. Ready to make a real investment to train your leaders on recognizing their own biases and preparing them to work within your organization to help others on that journey as well? Look no further than Step Up: Equity Matters. In their words:
Business leaders are talented problem solvers. And yet, CEOs named David outnumber female CEOs in the Fortune 500 (David isn’t even the most common name). Women and people of color combined hold just one-third of corporate board seats. Research shows that companies with more diverse leadership are 36 percent more profitable than their peers. Cultivating a company where diversity can thrive isn’t simply the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Step Up offers engaging learning experiences and coaching to help leaders disrupt biases and their cascading impacts. The Step Up method cultivates emotional intelligence, leverages established business practices, and deploys successful industrial change techniques. If you’re ready, we can help you create a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse organization. It’s time to step up.
3. And finally, let’s go back to my friend from the beginning, the “token” Black man. Netta Jenkins put it best where she wrote:
"You should not make Black employees work for free as internal DEI consultants on top of their normal activities. That’s what the CEO needs to do, NOT HR or anyone else! The CEO needs to listen, create, execute and deliver the action plan!"
Ms. Jenkins is a Global Diversity consultant; you can reach her here.
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Thank you for reading and engaging. Thank you for stepping up.