After events in 2020 raised awareness of racial and social justice concerns, many organizations are seeking to move beyond obligatory MLK Day and Black History Month diversity promises to truly strengthen their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (“DEI”) efforts, programs, and policies. For organizations ready to make real DEI progress but unsure where to start or how to move forward, here’s a path to get you to real, evident progress.

First, seek training to provide you and your organization a background knowledge of key and recent DEI principles. Second, conduct a DEI audit of your organization, which includes reviewing your organization’s data, policies, practices, and culture. Third, institute policies and procedures that move your company’s culture to maximize the benefits of DEI. Finally, train your organization’s leaders and employees in DEI principles and best practices so they can lead DEI efforts from within.

DEI training provides key information and principles to enable organizations to begin a productive conversation about where they are and where they want to be in relation to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The industry is ever-changing and ever-improving, developing solutions and improvements to issues organizations have struggled to understand for years. Each organization is different, and goals related to data points, policies, procedures, and culture will need to be discussed and addressed as they relate specifically to that organization. Collaborating with an experienced professional to help provide scientifically-supported real-world training can help disarm conversations on race, gender, sexual orientation, and other topics that can often divide rather than unite organizations. Most people are interested in discussing these topics, but will only do so in a safe environment.

After initial training, a DEI audit, done internally or from an outside organization, will provide a snapshot of where your organization is in relation to its data (amount of diversity and inclusion at various levels within the organization), policies (written and unwritten standards that contribute to or inhibit inclusion and equity for all employees and customers), practices (regular actions taken by the organization that contribute or inhibit DEI, such as recruiting, retention and promotion practices), and culture (what your employees and customers truly think and feel about the organization). At the conclusion of the audit, the auditor provides a report on each of the areas described above, including specific and measureable recommendations for how to improve each area. Conducting these audits allows the auditor to get to know the organization and compare its composition, policies, practices, and culture to competitors or other relevant organizations and make specific suggestions from changing terminology in recruiting materials to instituting credit and bonus structures that reward those who move the needle in key DEI areas.

Overarching DEI goals have not changed much over the last 20 years. Organizations still want to attract high-quality talent, expand their customer base, provide innovative products and services, and keep in mind public relations and legal considerations. However, how organizations are working to achieve these goals has changed considerably over the last 20 years, and particularly over the last 9 months. Organizations are now having hard conversations, investing important resources and making difficult decisions to reach measurable benefits, moving beyond checking off a box to seeing actual improvement at every level of the organization, financially and culturally.

About the Author: Tim W. Overton (Member, Phoenix) is an experienced DEI consultant and also handles complex business litigation matters for the firm. For more information about Tim, check out his bio here and feel free to contact him about your DEI matters at TOverton@Dickinsonwright.com.