The year 2020 was defined by disruption around the world. COVID-19 virus shut down offices, schools, and businesses. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Elijah McClain, and other Black Americans precipitated social protests by millions of Americans and shined a light not only on policing practices but also on institutional racism and bias. As Fast Company Magazine wrote: “Corporate social responsibility programs pledged their allegiance to the Black community and poured millions into civil rights and social justice organizations…(now working from) a glossary of terms like microaggression, systemic racism, and privilege. And books on antiracism took up seemingly permanent residence on the New York Times bestsellers list.”
At the same time, we saw dismal evidence of unequal access to healthcare and childcare; attacks on Asian-Americans, Muslims and Jewish communities and transgender individuals – all of which broadened the conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). In general, a social and cultural reckoning and awakening took place. There has been renewed energy to facilitate meaningful change in how society, and organizations, will address racial injustice and social inequities and facilitate opportunities for real inclusion.
Along with these difficult and sensitive conversations has come pressure on organizations, institutions, businesses, and individual employees to consciously and publicly go beyond lip service to address bias and discrimination more completely. Surveys by Deloitte indicate that many employees feel that public promotion of equity and inclusion have not been matched by internal corporate practices. In terms of workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion, recognition of the problem isn’t enough. To carry out and benefit from change, this newfound awareness must result in concrete action.
Because organizations and the people within them must facilitate change and be part of the solution, at the 2020 Administrative Professionals Conference, four women with DEI expertise and an understanding of the administrative profession sat down (virtually) to explore how executive assistants and all administrative professionals can champion DEI within their organizations.
What follows is a summary of their comments and ideas. Some suggestions and reactions of those who attended the panel discussion have been incorporated as well. Our panelists were:
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion: What Do They Mean?
Diversity is about representation or the make-up of an entity. Every workplace can have diversity. It’s a matter of whether it is nurtured, embraced, and consciously cultivated. Diversity brings underrepresented voices, thoughts, and experiences to the table, thus inspiring increased creativity, problem-solving and innovation, and adding value to all aspects of the workplace.
Despite decades of initiatives aimed at reducing discrimination in the workplace, equity continues to be a significantly lacking in society and in the workplace. Equity must be incorporated across the system – in its policies, strategies, and values – in how we recruit, pay, and promote. There must be equal access to engagement, to opportunities, and the ability to thrive and contribute for all, not just for some. Equity speaks to whether or not all people have a fair shot to succeed, while keeping in mind that people are different and need different types of resources and adaptation to contribute to their greatest potential.
lnclusion is about how well the contributions, presence, and perspectives of diverse groups of people are valued, solicited, and integrated into an environment. A workplace that includes multiple races, gender identities and orientations, nationalities, ethnicities, and religions, but in which people do not feel safe to express their views or in which only the views and contributions of limited groups are valued and carry authority or influence, may be diverse, but it is not inclusive. Inclusive workplaces heighten trust and lead to higher employee engagement, productivity, and performance.
To open the panel discussion, Melba Duncan posed the question: What will get us where we need to be?
Dr. Davis suggested that we need to affect both workplace systems and individual actions and behaviors. In terms of the system: we need to make sure it is seen as everyone’s responsibility throughout the organization…to recognize that we are all responsible. Leadership across the organization is imperative. We need leadership from the top; from those who are managing and those who are supporting. DEI efforts work best when everyone is on board! Individually, we all have personal power; we can exercise it and demonstrate leadership.
Other panelists noted that systems are more equitable when they are more transparent. In the workplace, for example, if we share salaries and compensation so that everyone knows, that transparency helps lead to equity. When companies get to equity and fairness, they won’t have to tell people not to talk about their compensation. Decisions need to be made based on standards--not based on who the person is or on whether someone is more like us, and standards need to be transparent. The world of hiring is a great place to start; we should be looking at talent and ability.
Organizations need to make diversity a conscious goal in hiring, as teams are composed, and in management. They need to develop a culture where people feel it is safe to speak up and safe to be themselves. EAs can help advocate for a top-down approach that includes outreach. They can also show how an organization can also, for example, work to ensure that all of its vendors also employ DEI initiatives and policies, and that their vendor selections reflect their DEI mission.
Thoughts on How We Can Champion DEI
The panelists agreed that we need to encourage, bring out, and facilitate underrepresented voices. Highlights from this conversation included:
The concept of the humble disruptor is someone who finds opportunities to challenge and lead others in a quiet and yet determined manner; a leader who is patient, hopeful, courageous, optimistic, and kind. When you advocate change, you may be seen as a rebel because you want to do things differently; you may encounter resistance. Most people are comfortable with their familiar ways of doing things and of thinking. When you shake things up, you are likely to upset some people. As you describe what needs to be fixed or adapted, you may encounter anger, upset, and frustration. Don’t take it personally; it’s not about you. Make sure you have a support system – find your tribe!
To say 2020 was an unprecedented year would be an understatement. The world saw a pandemic, social justice movements, natural disasters, and more. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic triggered a health crisis like no other—changing how we work and how we interact. The ensuing economic crisis and historic downturn left many businesses shut down, and millions unemployed. Following a number of high-profile killings of Black people, the Black Lives Matter movement brought issues such as systematic racism, police brutality, and social inequity to the forefront once again. Violent attacks based on ethnic, religious, and sexual orientation/identity put a spotlight on hate crimes and intolerance.
However, in this unique time, we have also seen barriers to change soften and sometimes fall altogether. Leaders are not only more open to DEI workplace initiatives, they are also hungry for them. Renewed enthusiasm for corporate social responsibility programs exists, and we are seeing an evolving transformation of the workplace. There is great hope that the steps forward recently taken will continue and that organizations will move meaningfully toward diversity, equity and inclusion—to the benefit of all.
ASAP recognizes the critical nature of this work. In support of that, we have made a recording of this session available for free to all ASAP members. You can listen to the DEI panel discussion, here.
We will also continue to support education in this space at APC, building on 2020’s Virtual APC DEI mini-track. Check out the APC’s program online for more information.