Diversity, Equity, Inclusion: A Journey We Must Take
Just over a month ago, a Minneapolis teenager used her cell phone to videotape an incident of horrific police brutality. The victim's name was George Floyd. The teen's name is Darnella Frazier. Thanks to her, the world witnessed Floyd's murder; Darnella made it impossible to look away, literally and figuratively. She's been called "the Rosa Parks of her generation."
Seemingly overnight, people took action, marched, protested, called for justice. Companies too felt compelled to speak up — and to do so sooner rather than later. So, CEOs made statements and consumer brands published ads; corporations donated to relevant organizations like the NAACP and Black Lives Matter. Some of the responses were authentic and meaningful. Some seemed more concerned with enhancing or shoring up the organization's own image than enacting lasting change.
For Skillsoft, a company focused on helping people learn and grow, this moment has been one of reflection as well as a signal for change and action. We've always offered Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training to companies around the globe. But in this new world, training alone will not suffice; learners have been asking for help as they contemplate a genuine transformation, asking questions like, how can I be a better ally? How do I acknowledge and use my privilege to support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color)? How do I move past simply paying lip service to the problem? We knew we had to go further to address the issues of systemic racism, discrimination, and bias in a more productive way, a way that would lead to long-term, enduring outcomes.
We partnered with a renowned DEI coach, La'Wana Harris, to design a special Leadercamp (a bootcamp for leaders) focused on addressing some of the immediate challenges organizations face as they grapple with their own policies. But, we also recognized that the need for this intensive guidance wasn't limited to our customers, so we made the Leadercamp available to everyone. View it On Demand here. And it was apparent that this type of experience was desperately needed; more than 11,000 people registered to attend, and the percentage of registrants who attended was nearly 300% the industry norm. This was gratifying, of course, but it also demonstrated that we need to fine-tune and focus our DEI content going forward. We're all at a watershed moment right now, and business as usual simply won't be enough if we're serious about changing for the better, once and for all.
The problems of racism and discrimination in the workplace (and the world in general) is centuries old. It certainly isn't something that can be solved in a one-hour workshop. What were people so eager to learn? What did they need right now? We decided to ask them. Here's just a small fraction of what we heard ...
"I need a space to reflect as well as a path forward for sustainable action."
"I need to take the message of hope and inclusivity to my coworkers in a way they can understand and relate to."
"I need to be able to better position myself in my role, how to have difficult conversations when it comes to inclusion."
"I need to learn ways to better engage all individuals in the conversation of power and privilege."
"I need ideas on how to be a better and more effective ally — and hope that the turmoil of the present will create real, positive and lasting results for all."
"I think I need to be open to learning things that make me feel uncomfortable."
"I need a better understanding of how to deal with a work culture that's been in a place for over 30 years and the biases that come with it."
"What I need most in this moment is to LISTEN and elevate voices of those around me."
"I need practical strategies and tactic that I can apply in my organization, when I haven't been invited to the table. Leading from behind on this issue feels powerless. Help!"
"How not to be afraid of awkward conversations; how to normalize the discussions over time."
Whether participants were leaders, allies, or people who felt marginalized themselves, clearly, we had opened up an important and challenging conversation. From hundreds of responses, several themes emerged.
The topic of racism, discrimination, and bias is difficult to talk about. But, talk — and take action — we must. We need to have the difficult conversations, and we need to actively listen. Discussions in the workplace and in the world at large are becoming deeper and less superficial. Expect discomfort, but lean into it. We all need to be ready to face reality (even if it's a bitter pill to swallow) and then commit to change.
Similarly, the issue of privilege needs to be addressed. Rather than line up those who have power (by nature of race, gender, or any other attribute) against those who've been powerless, how can we leverage power and privilege to make the situation better and more inclusive for all? This isn't about chastising individuals. As La'Wana explains, we need to "welcome people in rather than call them out."
DEI should not be addressed as a special interest or a separate topic any longer. It needs to permeate every phase of the employee lifecycle — from recruitment to retirement, including training, rewards, and recognition.
Most of all, I think our team and our Leadercamp participants recognize that we are on a journey, one that starts right here and right now. Genuine diversity, real equity, and meaningful inclusion is not a destination we can reach overnight. As mentioned above, it will take deep conversation and even deeper listening, changes in hiring and development strategies, honesty and self-awareness, and a commitment — at both the individual and the organizational levels — to changing the status quo and building something that's better for every person, at every level, every day.
Based on my experience with my Skillsoft colleagues, as well as the thousands we met at last week's Leadercamp, I've never been more optimistic that we're on the right path. And it's imperative that we — finally — reach the right destination. Each of us needs to borrow a little courage from Darnella Frazier, step up, and bravely expose injustice. Then, we need to work together to make the workplace – and our world – more equitable for all.
Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek is the Chief Marketing Officer at Skillsoft.
If you missed the Leadercamp: Leading Inclusively, please watch the replay, which is available On Demand here.