What is the Most Important Component of a DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) Plan? Access! (IDEA)



For years Diversity and Inclusion Departments have been trying to be included in driving business solutions and, in my opinion, to no avail. Diversity and Inclusion strategic plans are futile because they are not built on a foundation of equity and on an understanding that the most critical issue is Access. If you read the trailblazing research by Tina Q. Tan (2019), you can only believe in the full concept of IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access).

According to this groundbreaking research, Tan (2019) states, "Access/Accessibility refers to equitable access to everyone regardless of human ability and experience…. This will eliminate real and perceived barriers and cultivate, develop, and advance the talent pipeline." My belief is we are missing this vital component from our DEI efforts. We need the 'IDEA plan,' which includes the Access component-Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access!

Access is the most crucial step before you can have a DEI plan. It is critical! Disparities, policies, practice, and programs continue to be modified in small ways and do seem to make an impact on our organizations. IDEA is not one size fits all approach. Access means the adoption, reflecting what works for individual and unique organizations. Each company is different; each small company has various leaders and philosophies. As Human Resource practitioners, we need to start with Access. Once we solve that, we can begin to build an IDEA plan.

According to Mary Cheddie, SHRM, SCP, SHRM Divisional Director, East, "Access is internal alignment with the guiding principles of what your organization stands for." Cheddie continues, "In my experience, employees succeed when they fit the culture of the workplace/work team (not that they are the best fit technically). Further, it is about providing opportunities, access to all. Not everyone has the access to even contact your organization – and that must factor into access." According to Dr. Gerald Bell of the Bell Leadership Institute in Chapel Hill, NC, when a new hire is not at least an 80 percent match to the culture; they will end up being fired or quit (fast).

How can access help employees? The human resources practitioner needs to think in different ways. Access, according to Robert Livingston (October 2020 Harvard Business Review), "Managers should abandon the notion that a 'best candidate' must be found. Instead, they should focus on hiring well-qualified people who show exemplary promise and then should invest time, effort, and resources into helping them reach their potential." That is different thinking for human resources, organizational leaders, and hiring managers. This thought process provokes change and allows for candidate access to opportunities they may not have.

Most people of color are qualified but may not have all the necessary requirements. That is because they probably did not have access to opportunities for those critical projects. Human Resources practitioners need to highlight people of color, differently-abled, women, Veterans, former Incarcerated, and LGBT applicants. There is so much potential that can drive business results in many organizations. But this is a new thought process. I am tired of hearing “we just can’t find qualified minority (differently-abled, women, veterans, elders, etc.) candidates”. That is just an excuse. Just think if we said that when ADA was implemented, we cannot make accommodations. Look what we did over the last 30 years; buildings are reconfigured and much more!

Tan (2019) believes that if minorities and the disabled had good access to the quality healthcare they deserve and may be able to experience longer and fewer health disparities. If our minority and disabled (mental and physical) community had more access to quality educations, they might have more opportunities to get out of poverty. If people of color have more access to banking and housing, their lives may be very different, as well.

We continue to see discriminatory actions in our society, communities, hospitals, housing, banking, and companies. We need to unravel our past practices and relook at what process, procedures, and practices hinder access to all. Ask yourself, "Have our DEI efforts really improved the representation of boards, company leadership, customer retention, and all other aspects of our community?"

As human resources practitioners, we have focused on Diversity & Inclusion, for the past 30 years. We have seen research on the legal changes in our system, but what has that done? Created anger from leaders because they believed there are quotas to hire women, disabilities, and minorities.

The next reiteration of DEI (previous D & I departments) was Inclusion; SHRM defines it as "the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization's success." Not only is inclusivity crucial for diversity efforts to succeed, but creating an inclusive culture will prove beneficial for employee engagement and productivity. What did Inclusion do for organizations? As human resources practitioners, we started teaching "unconscious bias." Did that change the heart and minds of our managers and employees? Maybe for a day! Was it re-inforced in processes, procedures, promotions, and hiring? Doubt it.

The next concept added to Diversity, and Inclusion Plans was equity. What does that mean? The Webster dictionary states equity means everyone receives fair treatment. There is a transparency to cause and effect, and everyone knows what to expect in terms of consequences and rewards. When equity exists, people have equal opportunities; it sets up a favorable environment for both the employees and the employer.

According to Jim Link, Chief Human Resources Officer of Randstad North America, one of the world's largest HR services providers and staffing firms, "We've discussed how Equity is hard to quantify, but don't let that lull you into taking a loose approach to achieving it. The worst thing an organization can do is make empty promises around Equity. Without being able to demonstrate how Equity works and point to specific examples of it in your organization, it's a hollow concept that damages trust and only serves to undercut Equity in the end" (Forbes August 2019).

My plea to all DEI and HR practitioners is to review your DEI strategic plan. How do you start with access and then progress to your IDEA plan? You will be able to meet the needs of all your employees.

Doesn't this sound like a new IDEA?

Bell, Gerald D. (2020). Achievers: Become a Great Leader – Build Yourself First seminar, Bell Leadership Institute, Chapel Hill, NC.

Dobbin, F. & Kalev, A. (2016). Why diversity programs fail. Harvard Business Review.

Livingston, R. (2020). How to promote racial equity in the workplace. Harvard Business Review.

Tan. T. Q. (2019). Principles of Inclusion, Diversity Access and Equity, The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Fink, J. (August 2019) The Difference Between Workplace Equity And Equality, And Why It Matters. Forbes

Together Forward @Work is a call-to-action for the HR profession and broader business community to drive racism and social injustice out of America’s workplaces. Get the resources you need to create racial equity at work.  

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