By TARA JAYE FRANK
TJF Career Modeling
When I entered corporate America more than 25 years ago, there were rule makers and rule followers. Workplaces were predominantly shaped by organizational beliefs, values and priorities. Employees lived by a well-established playbook. When conflicts arose, they were expected to defer.
While power dynamics between employer and employee have been shifting for a while, COVID-19 took everything we thought we knew about how we work and threw it against the wall. Some of our norms stuck, but many now seem out of date. For example, benefits have become the baseline. We used to be incredibly grateful when a leader would allow us a flex workday, but now, flexibility can be the deciding factor in losing talent. In a global study conducted by EY, more than 50% of those surveyed said they would quit their jobs if not given flexibility.
In addition, safety at work has been redefined, and because people were safe at home for almost two years – away from racism in the hallway, sexual harassment or invisibility in meetings – the bar for what’s acceptable has skyrocketed. Many who exist on dimensions of difference got unaccustomed to harm and have decided that they won’t go back to the status quo.
It’s clear that long-festering pain points – like a lack of equity, inclusion and fairness – have risen to the surface and begun changing companies from the inside out. Companies that want to remain competitive are running out of time to make measurable progress in these areas, as an equitable, inclusive workplace has become preferred across talent segments, with 87% of Gen Z believing it is very important. For those from marginalized groups, this type of workplace is more than important; it’s required.
The fact is, CEOs are beginning to realize that the equity and inclusion work we’ve been calling a “business imperative” for decades is exactly that, and The Great Resignation has many playing catch up. An HBR analysis of S&P 500 earnings calls found that CEOs discuss fairness, equity and inclusion 658% more now than in 2018.
So how do we retain talent and create more equitable and inclusive workplaces?
- Define “great.”
Paint a vivid picture of what constitutes success in your workplace – in numbers and experiences – and determine, in collaboration with key stakeholders, what achieving it will require. Include choices, investments, priorities and behaviors.
- Clarify and communicate success signals.
Describe, in observable terms, what progress toward your desired workplace culture looks like. In an inclusive environment, employees will challenge the status quo and offer divergent opinions or ideas. You’ll have more movement and promotions across all talent segments, and the rooms where decisions are being made will include more diverse representation. In an exclusive culture, you’ll get little feedback, ideas will be incremental at best and employees will ask you for prescriptions (exactly what to do) instead of guidance (direction or guardrails). Your culture will manifest in how confidently or timidly your people contribute, especially those who’ve been marginalized.
- Name the accountable parties.
It’s necessary to have inherently equitable and inclusive leadership to unleash talent, which isn’t something that your small DEI team or HR partners can provide. Leaders must know what their people – ALL of them – need to feel psychologically safe, along with where they want their careers to go and how to help them get there. Don’t abdicate your leadership responsibilities.
- Create monitoring mechanisms.
Transparent reporting and regular touchpoints help hold people accountable and ensure you drive meaningful change. When you find ineffectiveness or pacing problems, you should discuss root causes, how you’ll address them, and determine when you’ll perform a re-check.
Ultimately, creating a more equitable, inclusive workplace is not a pie-in-the-sky effort. It is the key to attracting and retaining the best talent and removing barriers to meaningful contribution. Being valued – in pay, promotion and appreciation – is the biggest factor when it comes to staying with an employer, according to a Waymakers narrative inquiry study conducted in partnership with Brandtrust. People at work want to feel seen, respected valued and protected. To reclaim talent and guarantee your business thrives through the next great disruption, discover what helps looks like and to whom, then commit to meeting people’s needs with courage and consistency.
Tara Jaye Frank is the diversity, equity and inclusion strategist at TJF Career Modeling. She is also the author of two books, Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose and The Waymakers: Clearing the Path to Workplace Equity with Competence and Confidence.