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Making Real Progress on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) with Ella Washington

This article originally published on The Redesigning Wellness Podcast.

Two years ago, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) was the topic of new conversations, organizational pledges, and the creation of new job roles. But what has truly changed in the past two years? Although some strides have been made, there remain many barriers to progress. How can we move beyond reading books to start taking concrete steps to closing racial gaps? Podcast guest, Dr. Ella Washington, is here to help guide us.

Ella Washington, PhD is an organizational psychologist and DEI expert with a wealth of experience through her involvement as the Founder and CEO of Ellavate Solutions, a Professor of Practice at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and the Co-host of Gallup’s Center of Black Voices Cultural Competence Podcast. Dr. Washington is eagerly anticipating the release of her first solo book, The Necessary Journey: Making Real Progress on Equity and Inclusion, published by Harvard Business Review Press.

In this episode, we discuss what’s changed and not changed in the past two years the high-profile murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Dr. Washington offers some statistics on the role of Chief Diversity Officers and how they aren’t necessarily set up for success. Ella shares what we can do as individuals and organizations to keep DEI front and center. She leaves us with three foundational steps to addressing DEI.

Episode Highlights:

  • What’s changed in the past 2 years? Race is not taboo to talk about in the workplace. We’re not shocked about having these conversations.

  • There was a lot of money pledged during 2020 but not allocated. There’s a question if companies will follow through on their pledges.

  • Between 2015 and 2020 Chief Diversity Officers (CDO) grew by 71%. At the start of COVID (2020), it was the #1 role in HR that was cut.

  • Average tenure of CDO’s has dropped 3.1 years in 2018 to 1.8 years in 2021. A common cause is misalignment between expectations and resources and support from senior leaders.

  • To tackle racism companies can’t do it alone. They need to partner with non-profits, law making associations, and government institutions.

  • We need to look beyond numbers – they don’t give us the context. Looking at measures like tracking public sentiment on Black Lives Matter, can offer a glimpse into public opinion.

  • We don’t have diverse personal networks (from friends to who we follow on social media).

  • To keep DEI front and center, individually we need to diversify our network (actively seeking it out).

  • Organizations need to treat DEI as a strategy – plan, implement, track with a feedback loop. Although there is a moral AND business case for DEI, the moral case only gets us so far. We need to connect DEI to the business (and there are plenty of stats).

  • Companies that are committed to DEI have a clear purpose (what they are trying to achieve) and have the senior leadership team on the same page (not just nodding their heads and leaving it to the CDO).

  • Three foundational DEI steps – purpose, pitfalls (you’re not always going to get it right – be honest about your mistakes), progress (metrics – what does progress look like and are we tracking towards it?).

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