It’s important for leaders to know that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work isn’t about events. Truly effective DE&I is about the activities and efforts you implement to sustain your awareness, change and skill-building efforts year-round and across your organization.

Events are important catalysts—but they aren’t your infrastructure for inclusion.

Leaders have to invest in the structures, activities and people necessary to create a groundwork of inclusion. Not operationalizing your diversity, equity and inclusion efforts well costs you inclusion and talent, starting with the most important role for the mission—the DEI professional on the frontlines.

Over the past three years, I’ve said goodbye to many key client contacts in charge of their company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts. These are consummate professionals, primarily women, who chose and studied DE&I as a profession because of their passion for the work. They aim to advance equity not only in their companies but also in society.

There’s clear consistency as to why each of them left. They decided to pursue other opportunities where they had a better chance of actually applying their skills as DE&I professionals instead of having to act as registrars for events and sessions. They were ready to move on to something more impactful.

The reality is that leadership training is only as good as the countless activities, strategies and plans that help make inclusion a reliable reality in the workplace. If talented DE&I professionals are swallowed-up managing events and can’t focus on improving the structures to really bring inclusion into their workplaces, we’re missing at least half of the winning equation. 

So our question for the colleagues we serve is this: Is your progress stalled because you are so busy booking and filling events that you don’t have the bandwidth to help people capitalize on what they learned and to operationalize inclusion?

If so, you’re not alone.

We recently surveyed our clients to learn more about their realities implementing diversity, equity and inclusion. Their biggest roadblock? Difficulty operationalizing efforts.

These findings reflect what 25 years of experience has taught us — that without the internal activities required to initiate substantive change, changing people’s mindsets is a great start, but it just isn’t enough on its own.

Sustaining Belonging

Helping organizations move towards DE&I is a monumental task. In the most difficult organizations, DE&I staff not only have to confront the negativity and skepticism of their stakeholders all day, every day, but they have to justify and defend the value and importance of their role in the organization. 

In the best of organizations, the DE&I staff equips leaders and employees with a myriad of tools and assets necessary to sustain the effort. And of late, they are doing so while dealing with the ambiguity of a workplace that now has no clear definition.

According to Dr. Jonathan Ashong-Lamptey, a globally-recognized authority on DE&I in the workplace, organizations must “…start thinking about activities over events.” Offering leadership training isn’t enough when there is no action plan to continue the work back at the office.

We agree, and we empathize.

It feels good to conduct workshops that teach people how to lead more inclusively. But unless there is a structure to sustain belonging and inclusion, the training provided can actually work against progress. 

Our research and advocacy partner COQUAL defines belonging as having four elements, and each one can become an activity inside an organization: 

  • Feeling Seen
  • Feeling Connected
  • Feeling Supported
  • Feeling Proud

These elements should guide leaders as they implement DE&I practices in the workplace.

1. Leaders See Their Team

Leaders need to understand that people want to be recognized and acknowledged for their contribution to the organization and the team. Workplaces should have policies and practices that regularly and authentically highlight the good that employees bring to the team. 

Leaders also need to create safe spaces and opportunities for employees to bring new ideas to their attention. Each person’s lens will determine how they see projects, processes and products. They should have the chance to offer their unique insights and experiences without fear of being shut down or ignored.

2. Leaders Connect Their Team

Cultivating an environment with strong interpersonal, professional and social connections is essential in developing effective teams with high levels of trust and candor. To achieve this, leaders must ensure that their workplace allows for consistent cross-team collaboration. 

Connections don’t happen in cubicles. They happen through spontaneous interactions and conversations that can’t happen if everyone is expected to stay in their lanes.

3. Leaders Support Their Team

Employees in any environment do their best when they know they have support as they work, learn and grow. Leaders can foster this feeling by spearheading a culture of vulnerability that allows people to say, “I don’t know” or “I could use help.” Leadership should encourage and model vulnerability rather than consider it a weakness.

When mistakes occur, have the team sit down and talk about what happened by focusing on the problem, not the person who might have misstepped. Support after mistakes builds resiliency in yourself and your team.

4. Leaders Have a Team That Is Proud 

A sense of pride in their work and contributions is essential to belonging. Naturally, a sense of pride connects back to the first element of feeling seen. Leaders can support an authentic feeling of pride by creating systems and practices that help everyone share successes and accomplishments. Build a plan to recognize groups, teams and individuals as they achieve important goals. 

Make Inclusion Stick 

There is so much work to do to create inclusion inside of organizations. Events as catalyzing moments are critical — ones that must be capitalized on through internal activities to sustain them and those responsible for these efforts. 

If we hope to get unstuck from the next-great-event model and into lasting organizational impact, it’s going to be important for us to continue to balance internal activities with external events and to recommit our focus to supporting the talented internal DE&I professionals who are ready to give their all in creating the systems processes policies and practices that will help inclusion and belonging not just survive but thrive in organizations.

The WMFDP | FDP Global team creates bespoke solutions to help your team establish and maintain the internal activities and structures needed to do this work. Connect with us to learn more about our transformative events and learning management platform, Inclusion Insights, to grow and sustain inclusion in your organization.