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Actions speak louder than words when it comes to diversity, inclusion and equity in the workplace

By Saray Lopez and Tondra Richardson

As civil unrest spreads across the nation, we are seeing the result of people’s exhaustion with “talk.” People demand action and change. They are calling for an end to conversations and research as the avenues for addressing diversity, inclusion and equity.

Businesses and educational institutions have released statements acknowledging the significance of what’s happening in this moment. Yet, the words are empty if they’re not backed up by action. It is critical that organizational leaders continually move beyond words and make sure actions foster unity while addressing inequity. We should aim to act instead of react, and stay poised to expedite initiatives to provide support to key stakeholders.

We should consider those in our organization as future leaders; therefore our goal should be to empower them with the tools they can use to do the same in their workplaces and communities. Initiatives that truly support diversity, inclusion and equity must be meaningful, specific and actionable. It isn’t enough to issue a press release or statement of support. It isn’t enough to have an office of diversity or appoint a chief diversity officer. It isn’t enough to check off a box to show that you employ a certain number of people from a diverse population. It must go beyond that.

To ensure your organization’s commitment to social justice goes beyond words on a page, craft them to be measurable and hold your leadership accountable. Below are some considerations as you create a plan for moving forward.

Planning the plan

Before you can start setting goals, you need to first figure out where your company stands – do you have a mission statement that includes your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion? Do you know and understand the demographics of your employees and customer base? Do you offer any current trainings or development opportunities specific to cultural sensitivity? Do your employees and customers have a mechanism for communicating with leadership?

Be honest as you approach this exercise. It’s better to understand reality than to pretend you’re actively achieving goals that have yet to be set.

Gather data to support your plan

Once you have established your starting point, you’ll gather information about your employees and your customers in measurable ways. For instance, focus groups or climate surveys allow participants to respond to questions related to the company culture, cultural sensitivity, perceived bias in organizational processes, promotional opportunities and product development. Use that data to determine what your actionable goals will be.

Implement and measure

Now it’s time to take action. Remember that every action should have a measurable outcome. What can’t be measured, can’t be supported. So plan to follow up with participants at a designated time to gather data related to the outcomes you. Here are some examples of initiatives that can be applied to many types of businesses and industries:

  • Employee resource groups. An important aspect of diversity is how people relate to one another. Employee resource groups provide the opportunity and space for individuals to connect with others to work together to help drive change. This model can be tailored to professional development models as well.
  • Conversation spaces. It is critical to creates a space to have conversations, promote cultural understanding and provide thought leadership relating to equity and inclusion in the classroom, workplace and our communities. At University of Phoenix, we created the Inclusive Café as a safe place for faculty and staff to connect and build community, drawing on the diverse perspectives of the participants to explore powerful and effective responses as we face this new reality together.
  • Professional Development and Training Materials. We believe that employees should be offered workshops and materials related to cultural sensitivity that reflect the topics and initiatives identified through data collection. The data collected from students and faculty inform the direction of these trainings, in addition to the latest research and educational best practices.
  • Culturally Sensitive Vocabulary. Apply gender neutral pronouns in the human resources processes, in branding and marketing, and in all forms of communication with employees and customers.

Remember that when your organization makes a statement in support of social justice, there must be follow-through. You must hold your leaders accountable, and they must be willing to be held accountable to do what they say they will do. This will foster an inclusive workplace culture and your stakeholders, partners, clients and customers are watching to make sure that these statements of support do not become empty promises.

Tondra Richardson and Saray Lopez are the directors of diversity, inclusion and equity at University of Phoenix’s Office of Educational Equity.