HR trends

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22

October

2022

October 7, 2022

Embedding DEI across the Organization – The Role of Functional Leaders

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Amy Lynn Fletcher

Amy Lynn Fletcher

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January 15, 2024

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Not since the Industrial Revolution has the workplace changed so significantly or quickly. The Covid-19 pandemic incentivized the Great Resignation, as employees sought more flexibility in work arrangements and recalibrated the concept of work-life balance. Rapid advances in machine learning are now beginning to be felt from the shop floor to the C-Suite as automation reshapes the nature of work.

Responsive organizations today must also make meaningful commitments to diversity & inclusion in response to widespread demands for systemic change and social justice.

Learning & development (L&D) is essential to achieving equity in the workplace. The State of L&D 2022 report indicates that 88 percent of L&D professionals rank building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace as a top training goal. Moreover, L&D innovation, motivated by the pandemic and enabled by digital technology, has shifted corporate training from a one-size-fits-all model of passive lectures and workshops to an emphasis on continuous learning, reskilling, and upskilling. While hard skills training and soft skills training remain essential, employees prioritize opportunities for learning in the flow of work and self-directed learning. These new approaches are well-suited to embedding diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI) throughout the organization and making DEI commitments essential to career development.

However, L&D cannot build a culture of DEI in isolation. Equitable learning must be visibly championed by high-level executives and valued by functional leaders. Yet, according to Stephanie Creary, a professor of management at the Wharton School, “middle managers have long struggled to understand their role in DEI work.” This gap between DEI in theory versus practice creates what the Harvard Business Review refers to as “performative solidarity.” Despite the best efforts of L&D and a few individual DEI change agents, performative solidarity at the organizational level ultimately decreases learning equity and fosters employee cynicism and detachment.

However, L&D cannot build a culture of DEI in isolation. Equitable learning must be visibly championed by high-level executives and valued by functional leaders. Yet, according to Stephanie Creary, a professor of management at the Wharton School, “middle managers have long struggled to understand their role in DEI work.” This gap between DEI in theory versus practice creates what the Harvard Business Review refers to as “performative solidarity.” Despite the best efforts of L&D and a few individual DEI change agents, performative solidarity at the organizational level ultimately decreases learning equity and fosters employee cynicism and detachment.

Here are five ways to assist functional leaders in becoming champions of DEI:

  1. L&D innovators can skillfully combine technology and educational theory to create curated learning content accessible to functional leaders. DEI training should not end at the close of a one-off seminar. Indeed, DEI is inherently lifelong learning. Leveraging tools such as just-in-time learning can consistently reinforce DEI skills development and support functional leaders to realize equity and inclusion in practice.
  2. DEI is about creating a culture, not simply marking outputs on a spreadsheet. In the early stages, DEI initiatives can also be uncomfortable for many participants. It takes skill to manage these conversations constructively; hence functional leaders will need the support of L&D to ensure the development of soft skills and conflict management tools.
  3. Functional leaders should understand that for DEI to be meaningful. It must be at the forefront of day-to-day operations. As Christyl Murray, Vice President of Talent Development at JP Morgan, emphasizes, “DEI is both a business strategy and part of the people agenda.” Many managers will require learning opportunities and support to effectively integrate quantitative and qualitative metrics for DEI assessment across the talent development pathway.
  4. DEI executives have a high turnover rate. The job is complex, and while having a chief diversity officer (CDO) at the C-suite level is crucial, expecting one person to force profound organizational change is unfair and unrealistic. Lorelei Wilson, director of inclusion at Veterans United Home Loans (MO), notes that “folks in diversity and inclusion are battling heavily ingrained beliefs and implicit biases daily. A program that does not have the support of their executive team and has to take additional time to justify its actions to leadership is destined for failure.”
  5. DEI content should be an essential onboarding requirement for new employees, and subsequent learning opportunities should be available across the career path. Functional leaders, because they are closer to employees daily, can play an outsized role in fostering a culture of continuous improvement concerning equity. A partnership between L&D and functional leaders can provide the tools, content, structure, and visibility that DEI needs to become business-as-usual.

Edflex is a software-as-a-service corporate training platform that specializes in curated learning content. Our catalog is grouped by 6 domains, 30 categories, 230 subdomains and contains 50,000 resources. Functional leaders can focus on the domains and categories that are best suited for their teams. Functional leaders can create onboarding playlists that can be used over and over. Our personalized learning options can help your functional leasers ensure that DEI is prioritized at each level of talent development and each stage of career development. Whether introducing a new concept, upskilling or reskilling, Edflex supplies both the soft skills training and hard skills training that are relevant to today's workplace.

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