Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs are becoming popular at chambers as many organizations look to give all members of the community entry and a voice at the table. For some, it’s a natural progression of work that’s already happening in their community. For others, it’s the chamber leading the efforts. But if DEI is something you’ve been thinking about, here are a few things you’ll want to do.
What Is DEI?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a concept that is designed to promote fair treatment and welcome people of all backgrounds, especially those who have been traditionally disenfranchised or underrepresented due to discrimination. DEI programs are an open invitation to everyone to participate on an even playing field regardless of ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation or preference, or physical capabilities.
DEI is also about educating people on their natural biases and helping them move past them. We’re not referring to prejudice but those ideas we tend to jump to like hearing the name “Dr. Jones” and assuming they are male. Some biases or stereotypes appear positive but are often limiting like assuming a member of a particular race has above-average intelligence or is a hard worker.
In addition to DEI making more people feel a valued part of the chamber, it can also help you attract younger employees and members. DEI is important to Gen Y and the upcoming Gen Z. According to this article in the Washington Post (log-in required) workplace diversity is one of the main things they look for in an employer.
How to Create a Successful DEI Program
Make a Commitment
What most people don’t realize when they launch a DEI program is that it is not one activity. It is a cultural framework shift that may require a lot of work on the chamber’s part. There are a lot of moving pieces and buy-in that are required outside of simply trying to overcome a prejudicial bias. You want your DEI initiative to impact all areas of the chamber including:
- Board selection
- Written and verbal communication
- Member spotlights
- Scholarship programs
- Hiring and paths to promotion
- Networking and invitations
- Member recruitment
- Committees and committee leadership
- HR and member benefits
- Service projects
- Employee and board training
While these areas are a good start when examining the existing landscape at your chamber and in your community, it’s also important to bring in partners.
Bring in DEI Partners
If you listed a commitment to DEI in your strategic plan, no one expects you to be a DEI expert on your first day. But there are likely experts in your community who can help in areas such as arranging speakers on the topic to bringing in a consultant to assess needs. You may also have someone working with your city or have access to an informal subject matter expert in your community.
In addition to seeking out DEI experts, keep in mind you may have organizations in your area that were created to provide equality for disenfranchised people that will see you as “late to the game.” Do your best to build a bridge early with these organizations. They can provide you with the historical context of what you’ve been missing and you can find out where they have been successful and how you may be able to help them overcome a few hurdles of their own.
The driving force behind DEI is to ensure that all voices are invited, heard, and matter. Convening a group to help launch your DEI initiative is a good idea because it’s in line with the mission of DEI. Invite interested people of all levels and backgrounds to participate. Ensure your task force or committee reflects your commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion. Then work with them on the next step.
Take Measurements and Create a Plan
Making a cultural shift to embrace DEI requires a SWOT analysis, at least informally.
Find out where you currently are.
- What do you do well?
- What do you struggle with?
- Where are your areas for the greatest improvement?
Use this information to shape a DEI plan. You will want to include milestones from all levels of the initiative, big and small. For instance, a small milestone may be asking your staff to complete training on micro-aggressions or changes to workplace vernacular (some of the words we use can be construed as intending to alienate others without us realizing it).
A large milestone may be aiming for a more diverse board or creating a DEI training program for small businesses in your community. Then assign deadlines and responsibilities to the plan components.
Analyze and Share the Results
The final stage in creating a DEI initiative is to measure your results and share the outcomes with the community. Talk about your partners in the program, the highlights, and what you plan for the future. Help the community see how this benefits them.
Basic Diversity Equity and Inclusion Practices
In addition to rolling out a major chamber initiative, you can begin to put DEI practices into place on a smaller scale in a more immediate way such as:
Use Inclusive Language
Encourage those around you to adopt a more conscious and inclusive way of speaking. Many of us say things without thinking. We fall into speech patterns we used in school among our peers. Phrases like “that’s lame” to describe something boring or ineffectual can mean nothing to us but be hurtful to someone who is experiencing a disability.
Help People Connect with You
Make people feel comfortable by expressing your preferred pronoun. Not only does it signify your preference but it invites others to do the same.
Ditch the Gender-specific Group
While many of us say “guys” without thinking about it, it’s gender specific. To be more inclusive use words like “everyone” or “people.” You can also be specific about the group you’re talking to and have some fun with titles like “business experts” or “engagers” depending on your audience.
Launching a diversity initiative also means being diverse on the social media holidays you post about. If you’re talking about inclusion and certain holidays are left out of your celebratory rotation, you may seem hypocritical. If this makes you uncomfortable, or you’re afraid you will miss a celebration, decide to use a specific calendar like all Federal holidays or invite your members (or your DEI committee) to add celebrations to your chamber calendar.
Rotate Meetings and Events
Part of a DEI initiative is inclusion. If you hold every one of your chamber events at a bar, for instance, you are alienating a group that may feel uncomfortable attending in that type of atmosphere. Make sure your chamber events are held at different types of businesses as well as during different times–coffees, lunches, after-hours, etc. so that more people will feel included and welcome.
DEI initiatives, while they have the best of intentions, can draw some fire. You may have people in your community who just want things to be “the old ways.” It’s possible you’ll hear some references to “snowflakes.” But if the chamber doesn’t become more inviting to all business owners, especially the fast-growing minority business owners, it will likely see a dip in membership and problems recruiting.
If you want to be the voice of business then it’s time to embrace that the face of business is changing.