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Leaders need to go beyond a verbal commitment to diversity

How? By cascading a compelling change story with a clear business case for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) throughout the organization.

In the absence of an organizational change narrative or “story” on DEI, the closer employees are to the front line, the fewer people believe that prioritizing DEI is a business imperative.30

An effective organizational DEI story should be:

  • Compelling: Creates a shared understanding of the organization’s identity.31
  • Meaningful: Research shows that change communications are more compelling when the messages are personal.
  • Viral: Passed on to encourage dialogue and sharing of experiences, foster belonging, and influence change.
  • Courageous: Demonstrates vulnerability and a willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone for change.

A personal story includes context, personal involvement and often a connection to values important to the organization. It should describe some of the following:

  • Protagonist: The main actor in the story.
  • Predicament: What the challenge/need was and why it mattered to the people involved/organization.
  • Action: What an individual or group did/changed.
  • Outcome: What impact it had and why that is important for the individuals involved and the organization.
  • Invitation: What others can learn from it, and how it can be replicated or extended.

Stories can be disseminated widely: internally, at town halls and meetings with Employee Resource Groups and new employees, and in company newsletters; and externally at community, partner, and industry events.

Encouraging stories from leaders at all levels, regularly adding new ones, and communicating them will help further promote a commitment to inclusion throughout the organizational culture.

Inspire a story!

Studies show that a combination of personal and professional experiences shape leaders’ thinking about DEI in the workplace. What motivated you, personally, to advocate for DEI?

Story Ideas

Deloitte asked 53 Canadian D&I professionals about the reasons organizations invest in DEI.32 The top ten (in order) were:

  • Enhance employee engagement.
  • Enhance ability to acquire diverse talent.
  • Brand the organization externally (i.e., as a “socially responsible” or “best place to work” company).
  • Deliver on our belief that it is the “right thing to do”.
  • Serve our customers / consumers better.
  • Increase organizational capacity and / or capability.
  • Increase innovation and agility.
  • Core to the business strategy / drives profit & loss.
  • Fulfil legal compliance requirements.
  • Strengthen community relations (i.e., invest in the local community).

A Sample Story

Adapted from EHRC’s Leadershift: Pathways to Gender Equity.

“I’ve been with the company for 25 years – as a male leader who was privileged to have a spouse who worked full-time in the home, work-life balance was a theoretical concept to me.”

“I had noticed that at higher levels in our organization there was sometimes a drop off in the number of women applying for roles. I’m sorry to admit this now, but I had presumed this related to a lack of competency and sometimes ambition or interest. However, in the last few years as my children have grown I’ve seen both my daughter and son struggle with social expectations and biases around gender: my daughter has shared that she felt she had to be more proactive than her male colleagues in asking for feedback, while my son felt his career would suffer if he took all of his parental leave after the birth of his first child.”

“This has made me look at things differently in our own company. It led us to providing bias awareness training and other learning opportunities to leaders to ensure they are equitable. There was a need to identify who they coach and sponsor and provide a flexible workplace guideline which enables our employees to manage their schedules so they can meet their commitments outside of work.”

“The feedback we’ve received on these small adjustments has been immense. People feel more engaged and managers report higher productivity. We’ve noticed a more diverse slate of candidates applying for leadership roles – a big step for us towards our goal of increasing diversity of thought at all levels of our organization.”

“I invite all leaders to seek out new perspectives on how things are working in their organizations – take every opportunity to listen to employees and implement their feedback. You will hear invaluable viewpoints that will enable you to optimize your practices to engage all talent.”