Overcome DEI Inertia and Be a Force for Change

Organizations move slowly with change. Here’s how employees can do DEI work on the ground level.

Written by Eva Roethler
Published on Apr. 14, 2022
Overcome DEI Inertia and Be a Force for Change
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 Two years ago, a large chunk of the tech industry pledged to improve diversity, equity and inclusion. While there has been some progress since 2020’s reckoning, there is still a long way to go. 

Unfortunately, organizations are prone to inertia, or a resistance to change. In fact, according to data from McKinsey, 70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals. But despite the difficulty, it’s critical that organizations don’t give up halfway through the marathon of diversity, equity and inclusion work.

             

Related Reading:Built In’s State of DEI in Tech 2022 report

 

The good news: People are able to overcome inertia more easily than organizations. This means that individual contributors have the power to improve DEI quickly at the ground level — including taking on leadership roles.

“You might have an individual contributor leading a committee that has a director on it to foster a mutual and equal exchange of ideas among all members,” said Rod Delph, a senior manager at CCC Intelligent Solutions in Chicago.

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are a tangible way for employees to make important inroads on DEI. If the organization lacks ERGs, a single person can propose to start one. These groups offer the opportunity for employees from all levels to create a safe space to discuss issues and create change — and with time, they can grow in size, influence and funding.

Individual contributors also wield the power to help everyone on their team feel a sense of belonging. Regardless of personal backgrounds, each of us has likely felt out of place before: perhaps as a nerd in a sea of jocks, or an artist among businesspeople. In those situations, kindness from one individual to another can be transformational. 

Built In Chicago talked to Delph and six other local leaders for their advice to individual contributors looking to move the needle on DEI. 

 

Rod Delph
Senior Manager, Field Consulting Group • CCC Intelligent Solutions

CCC Intelligent Solutions is a SaaS platform facilitating digital transformation for the auto and insurance industry.

 

What’s one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to DEI? 

Become knowledgeable and active in the DEI strategy of your company. One way to do that is to either join or start an employee resource group and be actively engaged in the group. ERGs can bring all levels of employees together to drive change in an organization. For example, one of our ERG members suggested an idea for how to celebrate a cultural holiday. This employee took the lead in bringing ideas and gathering other employees to assist in the activities to acknowledge the holiday and the feedback was amazing. They brought their cultural knowledge, and it created a higher level of cultural awareness for the organization. 

ERGs can bring all levels of employees together to drive change in an organization.”

 

How does the leadership empower individual employees to be active in driving initiatives that improve DEI? 

Our leadership regularly reminds employees of ways to be involved in DEI initiatives and gives employees the time and resources to be active. As a co-chair of our African American Alliance Employee Resource Group, I’ve watched many individual employees get involved in DEI, and they can only do that with the support of their leadership. When leaders allow employees time to participate in initiatives like our ERGs, it gives employees the confidence to be a driving force in our DEI strategy.

 

 

Elvia Luna
Colleague Care Coordinator, HR, Global Property & Guest Services • Hyatt

Hyatt is a global hospitality company.

 

How can individual contributors participate in bringing about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to DEI? 

Individual contributors can advocate for new opportunities to connect. Hyatt’s diversity business resource groups offer a forum for colleagues to connect and create awareness around their diverse experiences, helping to educate and build inclusion through professional development opportunities, mentorship and networking. These efforts help create a comfortable and safe work environment for our colleagues, both at our corporate offices as well as inside our hotels.

Hyatt’s Global Property and Guest Services organization fosters thriving HyPride and Hyatt B.L.A.C.K. DBRG chapters that I find tremendous personal and professional value in. As a Latina woman, I wanted to continue driving diversity, equity and inclusion, so I pitched the idea of having a GPGS Latinos@Hyatt DBRG chapter, which received support and enthusiasm at all levels within Hyatt and subsequently launched earlier this year.

I am so proud to be a positive part of the change.”

 

How does the leadership empower individual employees to be active in driving initiatives that improve DEI? 

Our leaders encourage having courageous conversations. Following the murder of George Floyd and our country’s outcry, the need to fight racial injustice was pivotal and Hyatt took immediate and meaningful action. Hyatt’s Change Starts Here initiative was a step forward in fighting systematic racism and racial inequalities. Leadership at Hyatt hosted check-in meetings with our colleagues and created a safe forum for us to participate and speak truthfully. It was truly a two-way dialogue: Hyatt colleagues were encouraged to share their personal experiences and thoughts, and Hyatt leaders did an amazing job listening and showing care and empathy towards our colleagues during these conversations while taking actionable steps to lessen the burden and contribute to making real changes. 

Hyatt continues to use its resources to keep the conversation going and provide support for colleagues like myself to create new DBRG chapters. I am so proud to be a positive part of the change.

 

 

Antoinette Bordelon
SVP Of Finance • Rocket Travel

Rocketmiles is a points and rewards loyalty program. 

 

What’s one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to DEI? 

Employee resource groups are great outlets for ICs to champion causes they are passionate about and have been critical in changing Rocket’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. It’s no secret that the highest levels of organizations have historically been the least diverse. While the passion for DEI may be strong, help is often needed to inform execs on what real barriers and opportunities organizations should focus on to create lasting change. ERGs focused on DEI initiatives, with strong executive sponsorship, provide a win-win for companies looking to take action.

On one hand, ICs have a safe space to collaborate on the company’s most pressing DEI issues with support from leadership and on the other, the leadership gains insight into main issues and potential actions to fix them. At Rocket, we have an ERG that goes by Voyager, which has championed training on DEI fundamentals, implicit bias, gender sensitivity and more. Voyager has also been key in establishing pay transparency at Rocket, including formalizing a company-wide job architecture that shows potential career paths in each department as well as the associated compensation ranges for each role.

Individual contributors have a safe space to collaborate on the company’s most pressing DEI issues with support from leadership.”

 

How does the leadership at your company encourage or empower individual employees to be vocal and active in driving forward initiatives that improve DEI?

We talk about DEI a lot. It’s a key part of our hiring and interview process, we write about our commitment to DEI in our new hire welcome packet, we communicate monthly DEI highlights and celebrations, and we regularly review and disclose our DEI statistics and trends to the entire company to hold ourselves accountable. As a member of the leadership team, we have conversations on DEI topics openly and often, and we hope to foster an environment where discussing a DEI topic is just as comfortable as discussing the potential location of our next company trip. We’ve invested in partnerships with external DEI experts to help us learn and grow in the DEI space, we offer our employees regular opportunities to provide feedback, anonymous if they wish, on areas we can continue to improve, and we encourage employees to join our Voyager team and provide support to action their ideas and initiatives.

 

 

Maria Riccobono
Senior Account Executive • Rightpoint

Rightpoint is a digital transformation consultancy.

 

Beyond simply speaking up, what's one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to DEI?

Be an example. Whether it’s taking an active role in an ERG, being an advocate for change, or practicing the concepts we learn in DEI training, everyone can find a way to drive positive change within the organization. In a recent example, a member of our Women’s ERG, who happens to be a man, spoke up in a meeting to mention how we could do a better job to represent the diversity we have in our leadership. His initiative not only helped us improve in this one area but brought an awareness that triggered other initiatives across the organization.

Our OKRs include measurable goals for HR practices like hiring and promotions as well as participation in our ERGs.”

 

How does the leadership empower individual employees to be active in driving initiatives that improve DEI? 

Rightpoint has an open and transparent DEI effort, and while there are many ways that leadership at all levels encourage individuals to do their part to improve DEI in our organization, I think the most impactful of those has been incorporating DEI into our company-wide as well as individual objectives and key results. Not only does this represent the commitment to DEI, but it also goes beyond encouraging individuals to be engaged. Rather, it holds everyone accountable and tracks our progress towards them. Our OKRs include measurable goals for HR practices like hiring and promotions as well as participation in our ERGs. These employee-led groups provide a forum for employees to come together to influence policies that drive real change within the organization.

 

 

The Reverb marketing team having a meeting in a conference room with a video conference screen.
REVERB

 

Emily Wolfkiel
Sr. Manager, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion • Reverb

Reverb connects musicians and music sellers on its e-commerce marketplace.

 

What’s one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to DEI? 

Speaking up is one of the best ways to bring about meaningful change. At Reverb, the first step in bringing ideas to life is speaking with our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council.

In 2020, we launched the DEI Council because building a diverse team is key to creating the best marketplace for music makers everywhere. It includes people from across the company who collaborate with leadership to promote an inclusive workplace culture, amplify voices of underrepresented groups and provide feedback on DEI policies, systems and structures at Reverb.

One example of the Council’s impact is when they organized and led a workshop focused on facilitating inclusive team meetings. The discussion-based event included small break-out sessions led by multiple members of the Council. It was especially helpful since Reverb, like many other companies, was grappling with how to promote inclusivity and accessibility in remote work during the pandemic. As a result, we now have a better common language and expectations around inclusion at work.

At Reverb, the first step in bringing ideas to life is speaking with our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council.”

 

How does the leadership empower individual employees to be active in driving initiatives that improve DEI? 

Reverb’s leadership team partnered with the HR team to build the foundation of our DEI strategy and then shared specific, measurable goals focused on achieving equity in representation for underrepresented communities at Reverb. One way that employees play a direct role in advancing our work is by adhering to our structured hiring practices, which were designed with equity in mind. Another way is through identifying partnerships with community organizations that center the needs of underrepresented communities in their work.

We connect with other businesses committed to equity and inclusion, and deepen our skills in supporting trans and gender non-conforming people in our workplace. Our HR team and several hiring managers participated in ongoing training to ensure we are putting our commitment to DEI into practice.

Reverb’s goal is to foster a friendly and accepting community that is as diverse as music itself, and we’re now focused on continuously improving our efforts so this is a place where people can bring their authentic selves to work.

 

 

Sharon Ray
Head of DEI • Envoy Global

Envoy Global is a global immigration services provider.

 

What’s one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to DEI? 

There are committees and initiatives that an individual can step up to lead. I would encourage individuals to get involved and find what speaks to them. Mentoring is a way to effect positive change in any organization. Mentoring your diverse employees can set them up for success and will motivate those being mentored to pass on that gift. The more mentoring the more positive change we will see.

Mentoring your diverse employees can set them up for success and will motivate those being mentored to pass on that gift.”

 

How does the leadership empower individual employees to be active in driving initiatives that improve DEI? 

We have a weekly all-hands meeting where we celebrate and educate on diversity, equity and inclusion issues. The diversity committee sends out newsletters quarterly and provides opportunities for every employee to learn about different cultures. We want everyone to feel they have a forum and opportunity to be themselves and create a space and welcome anyone who would like to be involved in helping to create and move initiatives forward. We all are better collectively when we understand each other.

 

 

Carmen Zayas
VP of People • 8th Light, Inc.

8th Light is a software consultancy. 

 

What’s one concrete action an individual contributor can take to bring about meaningful change in their organization as it pertains to DEI? 

Individual contributors are key to making an impact. Sharing experiences and perspectives allows our company to see the world in a more balanced way. In the last two years, more and more of our employees have done this through Slack channels. Employees shared their dedication to community organizations that advocate for underrepresented communities, 8th Light in turn contributed financially to many organizations as a way to amplify employees’ individual and collective efforts. 

Recently, employees’ suggestions brought about change in two key areas. First, supporting families experiencing miscarriages. Second by improving work environments for those experiencing microaggressions on client engagements. Each suggestion became the genesis of our continued obligation in recognizing journeys and experiences inside and outside of work for all. We understand the seriousness of such situations and we are working on ways to ensure employees are meaningfully supported in both situations.

Currently, the company is working on an improvement and clarification in our policy to address this need, as well as ways to provide a safe and supportive environment for all our colleagues.

Our promotions panel must be representative of the diversity we have in the organization.”

 

How does the leadership empower individual employees to be active in driving initiatives that improve DEI? 

We routinely engage employees at all levels in process improvement efforts. For example, we have a promotions panel that reviews and approves requests for the promotion of our crafters. The panel must be representative of the diversity we have in the organization. Part of the work of being on the promotion panel is receiving training on bias reduction, and understanding the promotion criteria to apply it fairly. HR reviews the resulting promotions for equity. 

In addition, employee feedback and participation are incorporated into our selection process for hiring which includes a representative group of employees, who lead various interview panels. Great care is taken to educate interviewers on bias, voicing their feedback and making fair and equitable recommendations on who is hired. 

Leadership does not take a top-down approach, with many decisions being employee-led, employee-driven or employee-defined. This includes our ambassador team who is tapped to elicit inputs and ideas.

Recent compensation changes take into account internal organizational influence for a balanced review and approach to raises, ensuring instrumental work is rewarded fiscally for all.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photos via Shutterstock and listed companies.

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