Why Your Employees May Not Support EDI
If you read my article EDI Is Not A Priority, I outlined my theory as to why some senior leaders feel (and sometimes outright say) “EDI is not a priority.”
But what about employees’ perspective on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)? Is it possible that some employees share the same sentiment as some senior leaders? If EDI is supposed to be a good thing for employees, why are there rumblings that they aren’t thrilled with an announcement that their organization is shifting to focus on EDI?
In the focus groups and one-to-one interviews I’ve conducted amongst various organizations, I frequently hear employee concerns about EDI implementation. These discussions provide me with a unique opportunity to listen to stories and perspectives that are often quite different compared to what I hear from leadership. It may surprise you to know that regardless of the focus group demographics, I’ve heard disinterested and unenthusiastic commentary about EDI implementation–yes, even some marginalized employees hesitate to stand behind EDI measures. But why? Isn’t EDI a good thing for everyone?
Let’s break it down.
Why non-marginalized employees don’t care for EDI
For some non-marginalized employees (i.e., white, male, cis-gendered), it can be difficult to see the link between an EDI strategy and their experience. They believe EDI is for other people, but not for them. There’s also sometimes a negative association with EDI programs because non-marginalized people may feel the focus on EDI is a direct threat to their job and/or value, results in reduced resources or takes away from their own experience - especially when the organization randomly announces they need to ‘hire representation’, for example, without context or alignment to the organizational priorities. I hear people express this sentiment with statements such as “everything is all good here” or “we need to hire the best fit” and may come from a belief that things will change, and it won’t be for the good. They fear changes will disrupt the equilibrium of what they feel is a well-run organization.
These perspectives are most prominent when an organization focuses on tactics that reduce EDI to events within the workplace such as cultural potlucks, Black History Month speaking series or posting of Pride Month articles– things they can see, rather than strategy; things they can feel like the cultural foundation for all programs, policies and practices. In reality, a well-structured EDI strategy informed by experiences from a variety of employee groups takes into account the needs of all employees and creates a space of belonging for everyone.
It seems obvious why some non-marginalized employees may not immediately support EDI programs, but why wouldn’t marginalized employees?
I often hear from focus group attendees that EDI initiatives and projects are sometimes underfunded and the employees are overworked. If not adequately resourced and funded, EDI initiatives often end up falling on marginalized employees to lead, often off the side of their desk–further yet, these same employees become the go-to resource for all things diversity related. In the same vein, it’s often the case that marginalized employees have been raising concerns through surveys or direct discussions regarding inequities for a while with no tangible changes from their organization. So when the same organization they’ve been asking for support suddenly announces an EDI strategy, they find it hard to hop on board when the organization has a track record of ignoring their employees.
Another reason why marginalized employees may not fully embrace the EDI strategy may have to do with how the strategy is communicated and implemented. A poorly communicated and/or executed EDI strategy may result, as mentioned above, in non-marginalized employees believing the program is for “others.” When this happens, the “others” then feel further alienated from the organization and believe they are the only ones advocating for fair representation and treatment. In the end, no one supports the strategy.
With EDI strategies, the goal is to create spaces of inclusion and belonging where all employees have awareness of how EDI programs support everyone, how they align to the organizational priorities, and an understanding of (and desire to change) inequities, biases and other foundational EDI concepts.
So how do we ensure the EDI strategy is set up for success?
So how do we get everyone on board? It’s all about framing the strategy correctly:
Leadership endorsement – Getting the senior leadership team on board signals this strategy is a priority for the entire organization.
Feedback-backed strategy – Make sure your strategy is grounded in feedback from the experiences of all employees.
Break it down – Ensure everyone can see how the EDI strategy will benefit them and how it aligns with business goals.
Share the “why” – Be transparent about why your organization needs an EDI strategy; explain the company's position (relevant events, industry trends that has prompted the organization to take action).
Promote employee involvement – Make everyone (not just marginalized employees) feel like active contributors in the strategy implementation.
Additional resources – Provide supplementary learning resources and opportunities for those who want to dive a little deeper.
Regular updates - Be honest and communicate where the organization sits in the strategy, where it needs to go and make sure to share your success stories!
Address concerns and questions – An EDI strategy can sometimes take a minute to wrap your head around, and your employees may have some questions. Make sure to provide an avenue for people of all levels to ask questions, raise concerns and seek answers.
Where do I start?
If you feel like you are ready to take the next step with your EDI work, let’s connect (firstname.lastname@example.org). It might feel like a big project (because it is), but it’s never too late to start. Your employees deserve a strategy that puts them in the centre.
Let’s get started today.