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What Role Do Top Executives Play In Implementing DEI Programs?

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

PBS News Hour Nick Schifrin/Judy Woodruff: Lloyd Austin breaks the "brass ceiling"

cVibe previously discussed the critical role c-suite executives play in communicating the importance of anti-bias and DEI programs and how their policies can bolster the health of the organization they lead. However, If the c-suite composition lacks diversity and Inclusion – it is hard to take any organization’s DEI program seriously. So, when examining an organization to determine if there are barriers that perpetuate systemic access, responsible parties must look at all levels of the organization – to include the organization’s top executives.

Therefore, our next discussion is the role top managers play in removing systemic bias to entry – firstly do they recognize it as a cancer (figuratively speaking) that can disrupt the productivity of their company? Leaders must assess their organization’s climate and determine if this cancer exists, and if yes, they must take immediate steps to surgically remove it and stop it from systemically eroding workplace trust, Innovation, and productivity. Refusing to do this can lead to a festering of conflicts that when unleashed, metastasize and institutionalize a toxic workforce climate. We don’t have to look far for examples, 6 January 2021 in DC, shows how, if left unchecked, this cancer can quickly become a matter of National (or corporate) Security. One way to avoid this is, to anticipate DEI and bias problems, by surveying employees and customers to see what they think of the culture of their company. These assessments need to be formal and informal evaluations aimed at determining how DEI can strengthen and/or help build an organizational culture that values all voices in our society.

When making these kinds of evaluations and commitments to DEI, managers must also ensure assessments look at all aspects of corporate culture. Assessments must be conducted fairly and impartially, confidentially when necessary and, with open dialogue when appropriate. In every case, leaders must take care to emphasize the non-attribution nature of the assessment and its objectives, which are to advance the strategic and operational interest of the organization.

Finally, putting aside all the great work activists and media personalities are doing to champion DEI causes and objectives, …it can’t be overemphasized that leaders, managers and executives are front-line workers in promoting DEI, and cultural awareness within their organizations. Employees are generally not resourced nor as empowered as leaders are; consequently, they play an indispensable role in advancing DEI objectives. Key leaders determine who gets promotions, bonuses, they determine if the voiceless gets a voice and, who are off-ramped and forced to find employment elsewhere.

Finally, we end where we started: It is hard to see how real change is sustained without removing the brass ceilings in the military and our other treasured Institutions. As Dr. King once said, a threat to justice here is a threat to justice everywhere.

So, the fight is ubiquitous, and transparency is important. We also recognize that no assessment is useful unless, reports are published, feedback solicited, and implementation of findings and recommendations are timely. In this case the findings and recommendation need to contribute to a well-conceived and implemented DEI plan.

Beyond the plan, CEOs and other top-tier executives must go beyond the buzz and be trusted conversationalists and practitioners of DEI. They must have the moral courage to explain why DEI matters to them personally, to their organizations and to the customers and stakeholders they serve.

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