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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as a Business Strategy

Alexey Yaremenko/Getty Images DEI

There are misconceptions about what diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) actually means, says Rueben M. Stokes, a justice, equity, diversity & inclusion expert.

Stokes told WASTECON attendees why the concept of DEI isn't doing the right thing or fixing wrongs of the past, but rather a forward-looking business strategy to increase efficiencies, organization capability and to generate profit.

"These corporations are involved in diversity, equity and inclusion for the money," he said. "They need to say that for the money. And why are they doing for the money? These are for-profit corporations, and they have a fiduciary responsibility to their stakeholders to employ the very best business strategies available. And diversity, equity and inclusion is one of those business strategies."

DEI initiatives, to put it simply, make business better. Employee engagement rates increase, opportunities are created where they previously didn't exists and it assists in the product development process.

The proliferation of the Internet combined with the media portrayal of DEI has created a sense that it is a polarizing, politically-motivated topic. While there are myriad sources of accurate information, this is not the case at all. 

Stokes pointed to a 2019 McKinsey & Company report which studied companies and the impact of DEI. The top quartile of corporations who were identified as having the best DEI programs outperformed those whose were the worst by 36 percent. In short, it is a strategic business imperative that drives return on investment.

"What I like to say is DEI is an SBI that drives ROI," he said.

DEI reaches far past the human resources departments. Organizations that are equipped with a broad spectrum of voices and perspectives are better able to innovate, take risks, efficiently solve programs and turn challenges into opportunities. In addition, these companies are more resilient and can bounce back from failures at a faster pace.

"Diversity, equity and inclusion is driving process and system improvements, creating better solutions and better outcomes," he said. "You're all familiar with Six Sigma. You're all familiar with lean manufacturing, DEI is in the same role, using data to provide predictive analytics and to eliminate waste and to create process improvement. That's how you should think of diversity, equity and inclusion."

Business processes improve as workplace environments become more inclusive, more adaptable and more receptive to change. This benefits the entire organization, not just one group.

To be an inclusive leader, psychological safety must be considered. Leaders must create environments to ensure all workers feel safe to express who they are and their ideas without the fear of retribution or marginalization.

Leaders must have cognizance about differences in knowledge and experiences in each individual worker. 

"Do not pass judgment. Be open minded," Stokes said. "It's very critical to recognize the implicit bias hidden in your organization or the systems and processes that are artificial and have barriers that stop certain people from being successful or stop certain people from coming into the organization."

Interaction with other people who are different and learning those differences are imperative to success. Leaders need to be curious.

"You need to have cultural intelligence. You need to be aware of what other cultures think how they believe what they do," Stokes said. "You don't have to be an expert, but you need to continuously learn and you need to collaborate."

In order to be successful with DEI, a commitment to it must be made. Lastly, a leader needs to be courageous and brave in driving DEI policies and programs.

Stokes concluded, "When you get diversity, equity and inclusion right. Your organization is going to look different The leadership team will be culturally diverse - visibly and culturally diverse. Employees will feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. And you think about bringing your whole self to work and not what we call covering."


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