When I spoke to David Rodeck for the Senior Executive article, we talked a lot about budgets for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. As is often the case with interviews, much of what we discussed never made it into the article but is still important for CEOs, risk managers, small business owners, Title IX coordinators, Chief Diversity Officers, and others charged with implementing DEI programs.
Your employees don’t care who comes to speak if you aren’t meeting their basic needs.
You might be surprised how many times I heard from employees who are not being paid, or paid properly, by their employers. These same employers have been hosting high-profile DEI speakers who they pay thousands of dollars. For a few hours of speaking, some are paid nearly half the annual salary of many of the contracting organization’s employees. It’s insulting. It’s also why employees often say their employers’ DEI efforts are performative.
Pay your employees first. If you have a budget for expensive speakers, you probably have money to reinvest in your employees in ways they want.
Your employees want actions more than words.
I’m not saying an occasional DEI expert can’t be valuable in educating employees on issues you’re still learning about. It’s wise to dedicate funds to a DEI budget so you can delegate the educational piece to proven experts. But don’t stop there, expecting others to do the heavy lifting to transform the workplace culture you are responsible for. As with all sustainable change, it starts with the leadership.
Lead by example. If you’re using unnecessarily racial, gendered, ableist, aged, or other discriminatory language in your everyday speech or policies, your employees will follow suit.
Your employees need you to be courageous and humble.
Each of us has biases. Some of them are hidden from us. They have caused us to make unfair judgments that we have acted on. These are not our finest moments. They can be harmful to others, embarrassing to us, and career-changing, if not life-changing. Yet our responses to them determine whether the harm will be healed, the embarrassment will fade, and the change will be positive. People see through half-baked apologies and distracting public relations campaigns.
You don’t need a DEI budget to search for your hidden biases and their impact. It costs nothing but time, courage, and humility to apologize. Making amends often has little to no cost, too.