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This sounds like a statement from Captain Obvious, the fictional and humorous spokesperson for HR professionals have their hands full these days! Developing and implementing robust Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) initiatives is no easy task. A recent article from Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) brings forth some points to consider about gender matters:

Allowing employees to select and use their desired pronouns in email signatures is one example of how gender conversations in companies are manifesting. This promotes “openness and a sense of authenticity.” The article indicates this could be viewed as a political statement on the part of the company, but the argument may not be persuasive.

Employees should be allowed to “use the restroom consistent with his or her [sic] gender presentation.” Employees that are uncomfortable with that can simply leave the restroom. However, such a position may foster a sense that the company prioritizes some people over others which could lead to a new set of problems.

In a similar vein, conflict may arise between employee religious beliefs and LGBTQ+ initiatives. The article describes a situation where a devout Christian employee criticized his company’s workplace diversity campaign as “an initiative to target heterosexual and fundamentalist Christian employees.” The employee sued, but the employer prevailed.

While that article covers a few tactical matters, this Harvard Business Review piece offer supplemental guidance on practical actions senior management can take to support understanding, uptake and adoption of DEI programs. These are:

  • Ensure the CEO is a visible champion of DEI efforts. Years ago, I worked at a Fortune 150 manufacturer when the CEO made safety a priority. One reason he successfully embedded safety into the culture is because he was continuously demonstrating his commitment to it. Among the many things he did was to send a desk plaque to the manager of every manufacturing location that read “You will achieve the level of safety you demonstrate you want to achieve.” I find that single sentence to be quite powerful.
  • Make DEI core to the company’s business strategy. While changing hiring practices is a popular approach to incorporating DEI into core strategies, there are other ways – such as developing new products or services geared specifically to a more diverse customer base.
  • Create executive accountability for DEI outcomes by establishing specific goals, results or metrics against which executives can be assessed. This is complicated, but if done well, it can lead to progress. In addition to emphasizing the importance of the DEI initiative, clarifying the roadmap and promoting accountability, it also encourages executives to plan what they will do if actual results don’t achieve the goals.
  • Find and eliminate sources of implicit and systemic bias in company hiring and promotion practices, communications, culture and even how the company portrays itself externally.
  • Move from DEI training to leadership development. Incorporating DEI awareness, sensitivity and strategic value knowledge into leadership development programs ensures that DEI values are embedded in the company’s future.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile