By now, you've likely come across the many compelling reasons why diversity is essential for business. Whether it is for financial performance reasons or prioritizing equity and increasing representation, diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs have become table-stakes for the modern organization. It's no longer a nice-to-have—it's a must-have.
Versett's commitment to D&I is rooted in the desire to create diverse, high-performing teams where folks feel empowered to bring their entire selves to work every day. We are three years into this journey and along the way, we have made significant strides and have learned a lot. We're a long way from where we started, and have a lot to be proud of. We publish our annual D&I report publicly with full transparency, sharing not only our internal demographics but also our team’s sentiments around inclusion, belonging and equity in our workplace. We’ve implemented the Rooney Rule in our hiring process, expanding it to require at least one woman and one person of colour to be considered in our final slate of candidates. We offer internal training around allyship skills—or bystander intervention—and combating microaggressions. We’ve also created a Client Code of Values so we can hold our clients to the same standards in terms of respectful and inclusive communication. We have made mistakes, and we will continue to make mistakes, but hopefully they are fewer and farther between. Here is some of what we've learned and the wisdom we hope to impart on other organizations diving into this challenging but essential endeavour.
Actions speak louder than words.
It's an old cliché, but it couldn't be more true in the case of D&I work. One of the most common comments we hear when folks learn about Versett's commitment to D&I is, "Isn't that risky?" And it absolutely is. However, the risk lies not in the commitment itself but in being wholly accountable to this promise. A recent article published by The Winters Group, an organization dedicated to corporate D&I training, noted that, "There are definitely companies creating new roles in the DEIBJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Justice) space, which is good[...]. However, the vast majority of these departments are underfunded, underresourced, unappreciated and nestled underneath HR (instead of alongside that function)." Practicing lip service to "keep up with the Joneses"—in this case, other organizations—can do more harm than good. Riding a cultural shift without doing the work is a fast track to eroding trust with employees, particularly marginalized folks. To overcome this, companies need to bake D&I practices into all aspects of what they do. It should inform hiring and promotion practices, flexible work policies, internal and external communication, and more.
Lead by example.
Ensuring the success of an internal D&I program is every team member's responsibility at every level of the organization. However, the burden of leading change is often placed on folks who are already marginalized. This unfortunate reality creates a situation in which underrepresented groups advocating for change are viewed unfavourably. In a 2016 study, researchers found that, "Ethnic minority or female leaders who engage in diversity-valuing behavior are penalized with worse performance ratings; whereas [ethnic majority] or male leaders who engage in diversity-valuing behavior are not penalized for doing so." A visible commitment to D&I efforts from leadership can help combat this, signalling a company-wide priority. This means not only the endorsement and championing of initiatives but also the active, visible participation in everyday allyship. Leaders can become better allies by directly intervening when bias or exclusionary behaviour occurs, participating in ongoing learning and training, and using their reach to contribute to—and further—the dialogue on diversity and inclusion.
The work is hard and ongoing.
The truth about D&I work is that it is hard, and the work never stops. There is no finish line to reach and no point at which an organization can confidently say they are free from discrimination and bias. Moving the needle even marginally takes tremendous effort, which can, unfortunately, lead to D&I burnout. On a panel at Illuminate Conference in 2019, Candice Morgan and Adam Ward of Pinterest, and David Hanrahan and Trinidad Hermida of Niantic spoke about diversity and inclusion fatigue. They noted that, "Such fatigue generally happens because company advocates continuously push the issue without seeing the desired payoff. In this case, it's easy to lose hope." The ongoing work needed to keep moving the dial requires a multi-pronged approach. It's continued training and knowledge sharing at all levels in the organization. It's the implementation and continuous evolution of processes designed to mitigate bias when it inevitably creeps in. It's continuously examining individual privileges and identifying blind spots. It's the painful work of acknowledging when harm has been done and being accountable for learning and doing better. At times it will feel like an uphill battle, and it will feel exhausting. It's hard, it's uncomfortable, but it's necessary.
When we first set out to publicly commit to D&I as a central part of our company's ethos, we hoped that we might encourage other businesses to join us in becoming agents for social change. What we’ve learned is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach nor is there a silver bullet solution. We hope that as a result of our transparency, more organizations taking on the critical work of D&I feel better equipped to field the challenges that lie ahead. We promise that the effort is worth it.