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How a values-based approach advances DEI

Achieving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) isn’t a linear process. It is a commitment to cultivating core values and turning guiding principles into organizational habits.

That is the finding of a new study by Al Segars, PNC Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, and Anselm A. Beach, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, Equity and Inclusion, at the U.S. Department of the Army, “How a Values-Based Approach Advances DEI” published in MIT Sloan Management Review.

They developed a structured, measurable framework for transforming the workplace: the Values/Principles Model (VPM). It is based on findings from surveys and field studies from companies that have demonstrated significant progress toward DEI. Their article includes examples from a range of organizations, such as Google, Disney, Mayo Clinic and Marvel Comics.

Leaders can use it to develop a belief system that guides attitudes and motivates the actions of people within their organizations, says Segars. “To achieve DEI, it must be an organization-wide effort that becomes the foundation for fresh ideas and new possibilities. It is innovative, transformative and inclusive.”

The VPM is based on four values and seven guiding principles for transformational change. The values are:

  • Representation, rooted in the idea that diversity is an asset. When people are recognized for their individuality and unique voices, experiences become richer and more profoundly human. It encourages all to learn about and from people who are unlike themselves, and expands the capabilities of the organization, its talent pool, and the range of possible business outcomes.
  • Participation, a deeper engagement within each community. It creates an environment in which everyone feels free to share their knowledge and is able to make contributions.

Companies cultivate a diverse array of problem solvers and generate more innovative outcomes.

  • Application, the most difficult value to achieve. When achieved, however, organizations become more human-centered. Employee identity becomes associated with talent rather than how many people they oversee. Performance is measured by individual accomplishments. Organizations that adopt inclusive designs learn to see that no customer is average, and learn to service their customers better.
  • Appreciation, recognizing the value DEI brings, being grateful for it and relying on it to make an organization successful. Being recognized by a team or department matters much more than a corporate award. People feel more loyalty to their work group than to the organization. Redesign rewards to reflect connectedness among people and their work groups, highlighting inclusion.

Think about the values in terms of what an organization could become, say Segars and Beach, and use these guiding principles as a map for achieving the values in ways that are inclusive and transformative.

  • Build a moral case. Business cases have legitimized exploitative actions throughout history. Choose to build DEI because it is the right thing to do. Embed DEI into the collective mission.
  • Encourage willful interrogation. Ask “Why? What is possible?” Make it a priority to openly discuss race, representation, diversity and inclusion. Amplify employee voices to create awareness and change. Identify the specific needs of the organization; one size does not fit all.
  • Develop new mental models. Use cross-training and job rotation to improve access to a wider variety of people. View markets and customers as multicultural and dynamic. Engineer systems to overcome inequities that result from bias.
  • Adopt entrepreneurial leadership. Engage managers in solving the problem. Ease up on control tactics. Promote community ownership of the workplace. Encourage self-managed teams, mentorship and sponsorship as well as safe places to grow and develop.
  • Ensure accountability. Implement organizational mechanisms and incentives (such as task forces, steering committees, mediation, goals and expected results) to promote, oversee and guide social accountability.
  • Be ambitious. Treat DEI with the same zeal and energy as new-product development. Expand DEI efforts from the organization to the broader community. Don’t underestimate the challenge or the need to fine-tune efforts as time goes by.
  • Expand the boundary. Look beyond the organization for knowledge, know-how and best practices. Share experiences, insights with other leaders, and contribute and draw knowledge from professional associations, working groups and other outside sources.

“Think about the Values/Principle Model as giving your team the best tools to succeed not just for themselves but for the organization and the customers,” says Segars. “You are offering left-handed baseball gloves to those who need them rather than forcing everyone to play right-handed and thus preventing some people from doing their best.”

How they did it

The authors developed the idea for this research when Beach was attending a program designed by UNC Executive Development for senior Army leaders, and Segars was one of the faculty teaching in the program.

In my session on innovation, we explore the idea of change driven by innovation rather than necessity,” says Segars. “I use DEI as a challenge that is best driven by innovation. Anselm and I are very like-minded on the approach, which led us into this project. We also became very good friends – whenever we talk the ideas seem to flow. I feel fortunate to have met him and to have the opportunity to do this research.”

For the study, they identified the values and principles in a multiyear field study of 17 organizations recognized for innovativeness and effectiveness in DEI by multiple sources which rank businesses, including Glassdoor, Forbes and Fortune.

In the first phase of the research, they conducted in-depth interviews with 55 executives, 33 middle managers and 73 team members about their DEI goals and what they considered to be an effective path to achieve them.

Their analysis of these interviews yielded the values and the principles. They tested the model by surveying a diverse set of 350 employees in the same organizations, asking them to rate the degree to which the principles had been applied and values achieved.

The respondents also assessed overall workplace satisfaction, a reliable metric for understanding how employees feel about their work environment and opportunities for advancement.

Segars and Beach further validated the model using a second round of surveys of general managers from 113 Fortune 250 companies. Using the same approach as for the initial phase, they asked HR professionals in each company to recommend two respondents, one of whom identified as a member of an underrepresented population. Many companies asked for an additional pair of respondents to complete the survey, resulting in 430 total responses. The second survey confirmed the results from phase one.

“It is the best of times; it is the worst of times, when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion,” writes Beach. “Conversations about equity and inclusion are getting lots of attention. But conversations that are not in the right context can cause frustration and misunderstanding. We aim to frame a new conversation so that no person or organization is left behind.”

Read the full article here.