Updated: May 24, 2021
By Alanna Dorsey
The importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace is becoming more apparent, as companies with more gender and ethnic representation financially outperform others, and employees who feel they have a fair shot at opportunities report higher career satisfaction and are more likely to stay with their company (Dixon-Fyle et al., 2021). And after the recent racial violence and hate crime across the nation, many companies are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. DEI protocols have existed in the workplace for decades, but which ones actually work? How can these be implemented effectively?
To explore current DEI practices and learn how to navigate implementation, I turned to the experts. I interviewed three leaders in DEI at Stanford: Magali Fassiotto, the Associate Dean in the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity in Stanford Medicine; Anna Dapelo-Garcia, an Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity leader at Stanford Healthcare and founder of Lean In Latinas; and Leslie Truong, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Program Manager at Stanford Children’s Health. After chatting with these three leaders about their experiences with DEI practices, I noticed six overarching themes from my conversations.
1. Executive sponsorship of initiative drives momentum.
All three DEI leaders emphasized that one important driver of their success was garnering the support of their senior leaders. Executives and managers of Stanford Healthcare insist on the importance of DEI, which motivates employees to carve out time to join voluntary committees and employee resource groups (ERGs). Our experts acknowledged that not every company is lucky enough to be in the same situation, and these corporations with less leadership investment may struggle to have their employees prioritize the initiatives.
2. Opt-in participation is ideal.
When searching for employees to lead and participate in committees, Leslie Truong recommended organizing a group of committed people who are willing to learn from their colleagues. By giving employees the option to join or not, they will self-select into a group of driven people who truly care about the cause and want to make a true impact. They are ideal for leading focus groups and employee resource groups that spearhead initiatives for making policy recommendations and advocating for marginalized groups. Allowing employees to opt-in could also have long-term impact by inspiring their other colleagues to engage in these conversations and programs.
3. Make sure these programs engage employees, instead of merely telling people what to do.
Mandatory protocols can be off-putting to employees and can even compel them to rebel against policies (Williams et al., 2020). Instead of telling employees they have to do a mandatory diversity training, engage people in the development of a new college recruitment program. Including people in the change process allows employees to feel empowered and personally invested in the outcome of programs. For example, Magali Fassiotto works in academia, so the structure is comprised of multiple departments. When collaborating with department chairs, she encourages them to strategize and bring their own ideas to the table.
4. Involve everyone, not just the managers.
When implementing new DEI programs, open these to everyone. (However, in accordance with the previous tip, make sure you frame this as an opportunity, not a mandatory working group.) Truong advised assembling all the relevant stakeholders in employee resource groups. For healthcare, don’t just get input from managers; make sure to include perspectives from front-line workers like nurses and physicians. This is crucial for building initiatives that are effective at all levels of the organization, and also boosts buy-in throughout the company.
5. DEI must be present in every aspect of the workplace.
One challenge DEI officers face is employees perceiving DEI as an entity separate from their everyday work. As a solution, Truong suggested working personally with employees to show them how DEI is directly relevant to their jobs. Healthcare leaders can also incorporate DEI principles into new employee onboarding to set the precedent of fostering inclusion in all aspects of work. When organizing leadership training, Fassiotto integrates DEI into every skill taught. She makes sure to demonstrate how DEI is involved in every aspect of working with others and leading a team. For example, when discussing a leadership topic like negotiation, consider how negotiation practices may be affected by different aspects of one’s social identity.
Anna Dapelo-Garcia emphasized that inclusion also considers all facets of an employee’s life, not just at the workplace. She shared that when there were curfews due to George Floyd protests, Black employees that worked off-hour shifts did not feel safe coming to and from work due to possible police interactions. As a result, Stanford Health Care leadership provided letters to justify commuting during curfew hours for these and many other employees. Equity, inclusion, and diversity must be interwoven into the fabric of everyday life, in and out of the workplace.
6. Trainings are helpful, but they’re not the final step.
There’s a reason why diversity trainings stick around: they are a helpful tool to begin or sustain a conversation on topics employees may feel uncomfortable or uncertain about. However, employee growth should not stop there. Dapelo-Garcia spoke about an inclusive leadership workshop that aims to raise awareness about inclusive work culture. Only by refining the definition of inclusive leadership into actionable goals can this be put into practice. However, she made it clear that the workshop is only a tool to begin the process. Similarly, Truong is planning an unconscious bias training to host throughout the entire Stanford Children’s Health. She doesn’t see this training as the final answer, but instead as a means to raise awareness about bias and continue conversations in the workplace.
As Leslie Truong learned from her experience at Stanford and past organizations, changing an entire workplace takes time. Though it’s good to have a sense of urgency for these crucial topics, know that DEI involves a change in behavior, which can take years for a major corporation. So be patient, have realistic timelines, and sustain the movement. Invest in DEI for the long term, and the culture shift will be well worth the wait.
Dixon-Fyle S, Dolan K, Hunt V, Prince S. Diversity wins: How inclusion matters. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters. Published May 6, 2021. Accessed May 9, 2021.
Williams JC, Thomas DA, Harvard Business Review. Why Diversity Programs Fail. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/07/why-diversity-programs-fail. Published September 14, 2020. Accessed May 9, 2021.
Special thanks to Anna Dapelo-Garcia, Magali Fassiotto, and Leslie Truong for their time and insights. You inspire me and DEI leaders around the nation to build a more equitable future. I also thank Flourish All – a women helping women platform – and Wendy Zheng for her editing, assistance with interviews, and wonderful mentorship.