Webinar Overview: Intro to Organizational Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Webinar Overview: Intro to Organizational Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

At Vector Solutions, we host a large number of informative webinars to try to provide helpful information to customers and non-customers alike. You can find the whole roster of recorded, on-demand webinars and upcoming, live webinars at our Webinars webpage. 

In this blog post and in future blog posts, we'll provide some of the highlights of those webinars. In this case, we'll be highlighting and summarizing our recent Introduction to Organizational Diversity, Equity & Inclusion webinar, which you can watch and listen to by clicking the link below:

Recorded, On-Demand Webinar: Introduction to Organizational Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
(Vector Solutions Industrial and Vector Solutions AEC, webinar presenters Kenya Evans, Annie Akehurst, Danielle Goddard, and Jeff Dalto, recorded November 30, 2021) 

So DO feel free to listen to the webinar above, or skim the highlights below, or do both! Let us know if you have questions about this webinar or about DE&I issues in general. And also please let us know if there are things you'd like to hear us discuss in our ongoing webinar series.

In terms of improving the DE&I situation at your workplace, if you're wondering, yes, we do offer online training courses for diversity, equity and inclusion (check 'em out at the link you just passed).

Finally, know that because our Vector Solutions partners and coworkers have conducted a quite a few webinars on DE&I issues, we'll provide links to all of those webinars at the bottom of this article.

Introduction to Organizational DE&I

Although no one webinar can cover all important issues in diversity, equity, and inclusion, in this webinar we tried to set the basic scene and give a few tools that organizations can use to diagnose DE&I issues and potentially improve the DE&I situation at your workplace.

A Previous DE&I Discussion with DE&I Subject Matter Expert Dr. Tammy Hodo (6:38 in webinar timecode)

We began this webinar by alerting listeners to yet-another webinar on DE&I issues hosted earlier by a different branch of Vector Solutions. In that webinar, hosted by my coworker Kenya Evans, we had a conversation with Dr. Tammy Hodo, a DE&I expert who contributed to the creation of some of the online DE&I training courses offered by Vector Solutions (Dr. Hodo specializes in issues related to race, class, ethnicity, and gender).

One thing I really appreciated about this webinar was the idea that DE&I is a journey, not a quick fix, and it's topic on which organizations can continuously improve and learn about. As Kenya said, "it's a marathon, not a sprint."

We won't go into detail in this article about that other webinar, but know you can listen to it here: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion webinar with Dr. Tammy Hodo.

Diversity in the World and the Workplace (12:26 in the webinar timecode)

We didn't go into this issue in a lot of detail in the webinar, because we believe most people already know and agree with the general ideas and because these ideas are presented elsewhere, including in our online DE&I courses, but:

  • It's a diverse world and the workforce is diverse
  • There are many benefits to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace
  • Many organizations still have room for improvement on DE&I issues (for example, as the webinar notes, fewer than 40 women are in charge of Fortune 500 companies)

It's our belief that DE&I efforts are right and proper at face value, as we mentioned in the webinar. However, it's also good to know that data shows that organizations who are doing well on DE&I issues also tend to do well on bottom-line organizational financial issues as well as on things like employee engagement, retention, and organizational innovation.

Speaking of innovation, you might like to check out a few of our blog posts on related topics:

Key DE&I Definitions (14:00 in webinar timecode)

If we're going to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion, it's worth having a shared idea of what those terms (and maybe a few others) mean. In this section, of the webinar, we offered a few definitions so we're all talking about the same things.

These are the DE&I definitions we offered in the webinar.

  • Diversity: Simply the presence of difference.
  • Equity: Fair treatment, access, and opportunity for all; equal access to the organization's resources for all (which can be used to create successes)
  • Inclusion: Something like including including everyone.
  • Meritocracy: Creating an environment in which all people, given equal access to resources (equity), can succeed based on their abilities and not be artificially hindered simply because they are different. In this webinar, we offered the creation of a meritocracy as a potential goal for your organizational DE&I initiatives.

The webinar also drills down a little bit more on the issue of diversity to list a few of the differences we're talking about. These include:

  • Gender & gender identity
  • Age & generation
  • Sexual orientation
  • Ableness (physical and cognitive)
  • Race
  • Culture & ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Socioeconomic class and background
  • Military veteran status
  • Education background
  • Job positions within the organizational hierarchy
  • Ways of thinking

Notice that while a lot of these differences are things you associate all the time with DE&I, like race, culture, gender, and age, we also need to concern ourselves with things that are easier to overlook, such as including people from all over our organizational hierarchy and including people who simply think differently than we do or have different viewpoints than our own.

Potential Benefits of DE&I at Organizations (17:12 of webinar timecode)

Again, this isn't something we go into in-depth in the webinar because this information is easily available elsewhere and we believe most people recognize, believe in, and value the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but we did offer a short list of benefits of DE&I initiatives, including:

  • It's the right thing to do
  • There are harmful, painful, potentially organization-ending costs for not improving DE&I issues
  • Can help you develop products better suited to potential customers
  • Can help you sell to more customers
  • Can help you attract more talent (workers) to your organization
  • Improves employee engagement and retention
  • Improved innovation
  • Improved overall business performance

A Few Points about Intent and Bias, Especially Unconscious Bias (21:05 in webinar timecode)

At this point of the webinar, we focused on issues related to intent and how, even if we intend to do the right thing (in this case, to not discriminate against people based on differences and to create an organization with a healthy DE&I culture), biases we hold and act on unconsciously can steer us in the wrong directions.

To start, we defined what we meant by the word "intent," which was simply: what you mean to do.

But we followed that by noting that intent doesn't always lead to results, and we explained that one reason for that is that humans have biases that can work against our good-natured intents. In many cases, these biases are unconscious (meaning, we don't know we have them and we don't know they're influencing our decisions). There's nothing unusual about unconscious biases--we all have them. So if you have unconscious biases that tend to support organizational cultures and environments that are not DE&I friendly, this doesn't mean you're a bad person. What it means is that you're human--because we all have unconscious biases. The trick is to recognize we have these biases and work to not allow them to influence our decisions so we can have a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace and so each of us can play a role in making our workplaces more DE&I friendly.

In the webinar, we introduced Daniel Kahneman's theories about System 1 and System 2 Thinking (also known as fast thinking and slow thinking) as a source for their unconscious biases. Kahneman explains these theories in his best-selling behavioral economics classic Thinking, Fast and Slow and we encourage you check that book out. It's also worth noting he won a Nobel Prize for his work, so he's obviously got some salient insights to share. In addition to Kahneman's book, you might enjoy our article Thinking Fast and Slow at Work.

We encourage you to read Kahneman's book and our article on the same to learn more in depth, but here's the short version of System 1 and System 2: we make too many decisions each day, and we have to make many of those decisions too quickly, to really apply rational thought and reason to all of them. As a result, our brain has created two "systems"--system 1 and system 2--for processing information and making decisions. System 1 is our default system. The decisions we make with decision 1 are essentially unconscious and automatic and don't involve rational thought. These decisions can be very helpful and when they are, we use a term like heuristics (meaning--a rule of thumb) to refer to them. However, system 1 thinking is also prone to mistakes, and in some cases when those decisions go bad in a repeated, formulaic manner, we refer to them as unconscious biases or cognitive biases or simply biases. System 2 is the slower, more methodical thought process that involves reason, but the truth is we don't use it very much and we certainly don't use it as much as we think we do.

The webinar then moved on to introduce three common unconscious biases that are often involved in DE&I-related problems:

  • Priming: When information we're exposed to "primes" us to have negative thoughts about someone.
  • Affinity bias: The tendency to more easily relate to people like ourselves.
  • Confirmation bias: Stereotyping and looking for information that confirms our own existing beliefs.

Organizational Culture

At this point, the webinar gave a few tips about organizational culture.

To step back a bit, when we're talking about the thoughts and actions of a single person, this is the world of psychology. We can talk about unconscious biases and System 1 and so on.

But when we begin talking about groups of people and how they interrelate and interact, we're not in the worlds of sociology and anthropology. That's where discussions of culture become relevant.

Culture is a word that's thrown around a lot but if you dig a little deeper, it's not always true that folks know what culture is, what it means, or how to study it. One common definition of culture is something like "the way we do things around here." That's OK to an extent. Here's a more nuanced definition from the famous scholar of organizational culture, Edgar Schein:

The culture of a group can be defined as the accumulated shared learnings of that group as it solves its problems of external adaptation and internal integration; which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, feel, and behave in relation to those problems. This accumulated learning is a pattern or system of beliefs, values, and behavioral norms that come to be taken for granted as basic assumptions and eventually drop out of awareness.

Schein provides a three-level model for analyzing and talking about an organization's culture. It's often represented in a three-level triangle, with the levels of the triangle representing different levels of "observability." Schein calls the top level "artifacts"--these are the things that are easiest for an outside observer to see about your workplace. The middle level is less easy but still possible to observe--these are the things your organization (or the people in your organization) say about the organization. In other words, your espoused values and beliefs. And the lowest level is the stuff that's hardest to observe. These are the unspoken, taken-for-granted assumptions that many people in your organization believe and act on on a daily basis.

If you're trying to make DE&I improvements at your workplace, you'll want to study all three levels of your organizational culture as described above, but in particular you'll really want to dig into that level level--the unspoken, unstated, taken-for-granted assumptions. Because these play a huge role in creating what your organization is about and these can sometimes be where systemic problems with DE&I originate.

If you'd like to learn more about organizational culture, check out our blog post on Studying Organizational Culture for Workplace Performance Improvement and Edgar Schein's classic book Organizational Culture and Leadership.

Groups, Insiders & Outsiders (30:55 in webinar timecode)

Next, we discussed groups and their insiders and outsiders and how these affected DE&I issues.

As the webinar mentioned, one of the tricky things to keep in mind when trying to make DE&I improvements at work is that people we work with are individuals but they're also members of one or more (most likely more) groups. Sometimes those group memberships are helpful--maybe they're in a group that has an outsized amount of power and influence at work, or sometimes they're simply good places for support, such as affinity groups. In other cases, those group memberships aren't helpful--for example, it's not as helpful to be a member of a group of "female employees" or "employees of color" or "LGBT employees" if members of those groups are discriminated against, excluded, or not provided equal access to the organization's resources and opportunities for success, influence, and career growth.

Faced with groups, one important thing is for people at an organization, and especially managers, to recognize groups exist and then analyze the workplace to identify groups and see how they affect the distribution of power, opportunity, and success at your workplace.

Another important thing is to help foster communications about the existence of groups. Group members often are (1) less aware that the group even exists, and that others are being excluded and are (2) often unaware of the negative, pernicious, exclusive effects of their groups. By contrast, group outsiders are often more aware of the groups and how they influence power and opportunity, but they don't have as much power to change those groups as the insiders do. It's only by having discussions about the groups in your organization that you can create a workplace that's more inclusive and equitable for all.

Psychological Safety (35:00 in webinar timecode)

One of the most important things we can do to make DE&I improvements at our workplace is to have a workplace with psychological safety.

Psychological safety is a pretty well-known concept, so we won't go into great detail about it here. But here's how it's defined by Amy Edmonson, the recognized global expert on the topic, in her book The Fearless Organization:

Psychological safety is broadly defined as a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves. More specifically, when people have psychological safety at work, they feel comfortable sharing concerns and mistakes without fear or embarrassment or retribution. They are confident that they can speak up and won't be humiliated, ignored, or blamed. They know they can ask questions when they are unsure about something. They tend to trust and respect their colleagues.

Three tips that Edmonson provides for creating an atmosphere of psychological safety at work that can be used within the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are listed below:

  • Reframe: change the way you discuss things at work so you avoid implicit or indirect negative value connotations.
  • Invite participation: ask coworkers more questions; be aspirational; be inspirational.
  • Respond appreciatively and productively: thank people for their contributions and do so in a meaningful, productive manner; implement suggestions when you can; explain why you can't when you don't.

If you'd like to learn more about psychological safety, please read our blog article on Psychological Safety and Learning Organizations or read the classic book by Amy Edmonson, The Fearless Organization.

Change Management Models & the Diffusion of Innovation (36:20 on webinar timecode)

If you're trying to create DE&I improvements at work, you're trying to create change at work. And that's why the field of change management and change management models can be helpful.

In the webinar, we called out our change management model in particular: the Diffusion of Innovation model by Everett Rogers. The short version is that in many cases, change isn't equally accepted by all members of a population (like your organization). Instead, there are some who are eager for change--the so-called "early adapters"--others who are resistant to change and only do so reluctantly--"laggards," if you will--and all sorts of people in between.

It may be a non-intuitive idea, but you may want to try to introduce your DE&I program or perhaps elements of it to the early adapters instead of beating yourself over your head trying to get everyone in your organization onboard at the same time. In many cases, getting those early adapters onboard will ultimately help you bring the change resisters onboard later as well. Plus, research shows that sometimes when we force things on people, they react by digging in deeper and resisting even more.

You can learn more about Roger's Diffusion of Innovation model in his classic book, Diffusion of Innovations.

A related resource about how to motivate people to change is the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. You might want to read that book as well or our blog post based on that book--Six Sticky Tips for Behavior Change.

A Report from the Learning Guild on Diversity Training: What Works & What Doesn't (37:49 in webinar timecode)

We're fans of evidence-based training practices at Vector Solutions, so we appreciate organizations such as the Learning Guild for conducting and publishing research that L&D professionals can apply at work for improved training outcomes.

To that end, the webinar mentioned a research report from the Learning Guild that we recommend you download and read. Here's the link for you to access it:

Thanks to Dr. Jane Bozarth for her work, including her work on this report.

Remember that although training CAN help improve the DE&I situation at your workplace, training isn't the entire answer. You can't train your way out of a DE&I mess at work. Instead, you can use training along with a lot of other improvement approaches in a systemic manner (that's why we'll discuss systems thinking for DE&I improvement in the next section). If you're unfamiliar with human performance improvement, or HPI, it's a great tool to help you remember that training isn't always the answer and isn't the only answer for workplace performance improvement--read more in our Introduction to HPI article.

DE&I Problems are Systemic, so use Systems Thinking to Improve Them (38:55 in webinar timecode)

Diversity, equity & inclusion problems in our societies and our workplaces are systems problems. That means we can't solve them simply by thinking of them in isolation or using siloed improvement efforts. We need to step back, take a big-picture, holistic view, and find the underlying structures and paradigms contributing to the problems.

If you don't do this, but instead respond to every DE&I issue in an ad-hoc, unplanned manner, at best you'll be treating symptoms instead of causes. And ultimately, you'll be playing a game of endless "whack-a-mole" and still have the same DE&I problems when you're done. That's because systems create what their design leads them to create. Putting a Band-Aid on a systems problem never identifies the underlying systemic forces that are leading to your problems.

For more on this, please check out our blog article Systems Thinking for Workplace Performance Improvement, the classic book by Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows, or this entertaining recorded discussion with Dr. Russell Ackoff on Systems Thinking.

Begin DE&I Improvements by Making Changes at Four Levels of Your Organization (43:15 in webinar timecode)

One resource we found very valuable for pulling together this DE&I webinar was a book called The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity & Inclusion Pays Off. We recommend you read the book and we'll refer to it again later in this article (just as we referred to it a few times in our webinar).

That book recommends beginning DE&I change efforts in your organization at four levels, listed below:

  • Individual: help individuals develop awareness, knowledge, and skills around DE&I issues. Note: this is where DE&I training can play a role.
  • Group and team: identifying and learning more about the groups at your workplace and how they play a role in providing some people opportunities and success and denying opportunities and success to other, equally worthy people. Refer to the section about Groups earlier in this article for more information on this.
  • Organization: your organization behavioral norms; your policies, procedures, and practices; and your organizational culture (see the section earlier on Organizational Culture for more on this)
  • Marketplace: how does your organization engage clients and customers? What's your brand identity? How do you use inclusion to grow your brand?

DE&I Improvements and Your Organization's Management (44:34 in webinar timecode)

Finally, we'll provide a few tips about management and DE&I.

Your whole organization has to participate in order to make the most comprehensive, lasting, and substantive DE&I improvements at your organization. So DE&I isn't just something we can say is a management responsibility and then ignore it.

On the other hand, it's obvious that managers play a role in creating, sustaining, and changing an organization's DE&I culture. For better or worse, managers have an outsized role in some elements of your organization that are most important. Things like who gets hired; who gets raises; who gets promoted; who gets fired; who gets included in meetings and who doesn't; who has influence on the organization's direction and who doesn't; and so on.

The first point we make in the webinar is that if your organization values DE&I, top management has to reflect that. Not just talk to the talk--but actually be diverse. If you've got a non-diverse team of top managers that's telling workers they really value DE&I, and that lack of diversity at the top where real organizational power persists, the best I can say if your employees are likely to treat your commitment to DE&I with a skeptical eye. So that's one thing.

Additionally, and here we're relying on the book The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity & Inclusion Pays Off again, they recommend the following competencies for managers to improve DE&I at work:

  • Individual awareness and self-management
  • Embracing individual and group identities
  • Envisioning and framing positive change
  • Fostering true meritocracy
  • Creating a culture of ownership of DE&I issues

Using Mobile Risk Communication for Improving DE&I Issues (47:35 in webinar timecode)

One recommendation that Vector Solutions has is that you consider using mobile risk communication platforms to allow workers at your organization to communicate, including communicating in an anonymous fashion, about DE&I issues and problems.

One classic use for this would be providing a way for a worker who's experienced some form of DE&I negativity at work with a safe, anonymous manner to report that incident to someone like the HR department (and for the HR department to analyze those kind of reports in an analytics dashboard).

We won't go into a lot of detail about this in this article, but it's discussed a little further in the webinar and you can also learn more about the LiveSafe mobile risk communication app and platform at our website.

Safety/EHS Management for Improving DE&I Issues (49:15 in webinar timecode)

DE&I problems at work are a negative psychosocial stressor. As a result, even if you might think of DE&I as an "HR" issue, you might find some opportunities to collaborate with occupational safety and health professionals and use thinks like safety management systems and safety management software to create DE&I improvements at work.

Again, we won't go into great detail about this in the article, but we encourage you to listen to this brief part of the webinar.

Additionally, you might want to check out the related recorded discussion we had with safety professional Kahliliah Guyah on DE&I and Safety Management.

Go here to learn more about the Vector Solutions EHS Management software.

Our Online Training Courses to Organizational Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Improvement

Vector Solutions also offers online training courses to help your organization on your DE&I learning and improvement curves. These are discussed in the webinar a little, so check that out or see our DE&I online training library at our website.

A Recommended Resource for Learning More about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

We mentioned a few times above that we found the book The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity & Inclusion Pays Off very helpful as we prepared for this webinar and we encourage you to check it out as well.

What about you--know any great books on DE&I issues? Feel free to mention them in the comments section of this article.

Additional Resources on DE&I Issues from Vector Solutions

We're not the only unit of Vector Solutions creating webinars, blog posts, and downloads related to DE&I issues: all of Vector is.

To that end, we invite you to check out any of the DE&I-related webinars created by our coworkers in different business units below:

Conclusion: Stay Tuned for More on DE&I from Vector Solutions

As we said, DE&I improvement is a marathon, not a sprint, and Vector Solutions will continue to grow to improve our own internal DE&I culture and will continue to create resources we hope will help you do the same. Please stay tuned and let us know your own experiences in the comments section below.

Want to Know More?

Reach out and a Vector Solutions representative will respond back to help answer any questions you might have.