Companies wanting to promote diversity and equity in the workplace may want to focus on culture and intentionality, according to Williamson, Inc.’s virtual inclusion workshop guest on Tuesday.
The county’s chamber of commerce welcomed Danya Perry, the director of equitable economic development at Wake County Economic Development in North Carolina, on a webinar to discuss ways to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.
Perry began with a quote by Verna Myers: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”
Perry suggested adding another piece to this metaphor to resemble equity.
“We’ve really boiled down equity to ‘how do we actually build bridges or remove barriers to ensure diversity and inclusion?’” he said. “So, for us, using Verna’s perspective, equity is actually ‘how does the person even get to the party to begin with?’ How do we ensure that accessibility is there?”
Perry said it starts with education and awareness. He recommended companies bring in a third party to audit a company’s status in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion so as to avoid any in-company bias from the assessment. He recommended that leaders increase their fluency in diversity and inclusion and provide learning opportunities in these topics.
However, he said company leaders should give themselves grace as they move forward in striving for a more diverse workforce.
“I don’t want the work to overwhelm you to a place where we can sometimes become paralyzed in analyzing ‘are we doing the right thing?’” he said.
He mentioned one place to start is with culture. Perry shared that tokenism, where a minority is hired solely because of their skin color or religious affiliation or some other quality, is a real issue. He said that can be avoided by creating a space where different perspectives are truly seen as valuable additions to the team and companies should strive to be a place where differences are celebrated and where people can bring “their whole selves” to work.
“We’re putting the onus on those individuals to overcome or to fight through barriers that prevented them from feeling like they can bring their whole selves,” he said, adding that this should be avoided by modeling authenticity and being sincere.
In addition to focusing on company culture, Perry said the process of creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment must be intentional. A good place to start is by creating a diversity and inclusion council within the company, but a common pitfall is to structure this as an “add-on.”
He said this issue does not simply belong in human resources or community engagement.
“By making sure that this council and this committee is a cross-section of all of the different departments or all of the different divisions and … (giving) them the blessing to be the leaders of a roadmap that they would like to create and identify the organizational goals, then that is certainly the first step towards sustainability of it being truly baked into your company,” he said.
Not only should the strategy pervade every part of the company, he said, but this committee should be a “mainstay,” constantly assessing the company’s efforts, and should not be a means to an end.
He said many companies are releasing statements about diversity these days, but companies should avoid being “performative allies,” meaning they make empty statements unsubstantiated by their companies’ cultures and practices.
“Now it’s almost by peer pressure. You have to say something because the younger Millennials and Gen Z — they are making decisions about companies based upon their commitment towards diversity, equity and inclusion and also our social justice issues. So, now it becomes, ‘We have to say something,’” he said. “What happens for your employees that have been working in that space for 20 years, and they see that statement, but there’s no substance in that statement? They collectively will give you the side-eye.”
Perry shared a final important aspect to promoting diversity and inclusion is listening — holding focus groups, creating a “continuous feedback loop,” and listening to understand rather than listening to get to your point.
“When we have conversations, we have been conditioned to be very surface-level,” he said. “When you give space for people truly to have … unabated opportunity to talk, that’s when you start getting into some deeper conversations that help you connect more with who your colleagues are.”
To learn more about Williamson, Inc.’s upcoming events, visit WilliamsonChamber.com.