Having the Tough Conversations
with Lisa Greene, LPC, CACII
What questions can I ask to find out how diverse, equitable, inclusive & accessible an organization’s culture ACTUALLY is?”
After everything we managed in 2020, there was a shift for some organizations who decided that they want to be on the right side of change.
In order for that change to occur, there is work that needs to be done.
Many organizations want to be “politically correct” and SAY that their mission includes a focus on DEI&A (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility), yet continue to operate in ways that are not equitable nor inclusive. (Seem familiar? Read on.)
While DEIA is not easy to quantify, there are red flags that indicate companies are just “talking the talk” and not changing systems and policies to sustain long term change. If you are looking to venture into a new relationship with an organization, but want to first identify their internal culture, there are certain key areas to pay attention to that can give you insight into where they are with their DEIA action.
The Current Status of DEIA in the Workplace
The topic of white supremacy culture or dismantling racism in the workplace is considered to be a “hot topic.” There are often strong feelings of discomfort within teams, as this is still considered a “touchy” and uncomfortable subject.
There are companies and government bodies that are striving to make the workplace more equitable with programs like training, caucusing, and affinity groups. But a “check the box” approach without creating the space and offering the tools for meaningful change to actually occur, does not actually help employees, and can lead to secondary trauma.
What You Can Consider
As you seek to form a relationship with an organization, whether as a new team member, internal leader, or partner, it is important to identify if you are both equally yoked to a mutual commitment — just as in a marriage. (How many marriages fail due to not asking the right questions before taking vows…)
There are some initial indicators that a company or nonprofit is not focused on diversity, equity, inclusion & accessibility. In assessing the organization: do they use gendered language without an openness to replacing it; do they dismiss any critical feedback from those not already in leadership positions; or is there a lack of flexibility for remote work (even though it would be reasonable for the type of work)? The response to these questions may raise red flags about the culture of an organization.
So, you want to know how to find out how to assess an organization based on their realized DEI&A commitment (not just their talking points). Here are some questions that can guide your dialogue as you decide whether you are making a good choice in partnering with an agency.
➡️ If you’re an interviewee considering joining an organization, here are some starter questions for you to ask during the interview, or in private to current & former staff:
- How does this organization feel and think about diversity and inclusion?
- How is diversity and inclusion part of your company culture?
- How is diversity expressed in your leadership team?
- How are differences between team members handled here?
- Can you provide an example of how diversity is promoted in this company?
- Is there mentoring/coaching offered for people at all ‘levels’ of the organization?
- (How) do you ensure that employee benefits are inclusive and equitably offered?
Be listening for the ongoing action (or lack thereof) revealed in their answers. This is your indicator of whether the organization is fully invested in creating or maintaining a workplace that champions inclusive equity.
➡️ If you’re considering a potential business or creative partnership:
- Has the company initiated any DEIA initiatives?
- If not, is there a plan?
- What is the retention rate for diverse employees?
- Have there been any incidents related to racism, and how were they handled? (Note: if they say there have been *no* incidents like this, or they have no idea, take it as a warning sign that this organization may be ignoring those issues.)
- What are the mission and vision statements? (Notice whether they mention diversity or inclusion as a key value.)
Hopefully the response will include excitement about the initiatives being implemented. Pay close attention to the turnover of people belonging to diverse populations. Don’t be afraid to dig in on the mission and vision statements, and ask further questions.
➡️ If you’re already within an organization, assessing it:
- Is there a safe space to address concerns without fear of retaliation?
- Is the leadership team, including other key decision-makers in HR or DEIA, aware when there is a problem that needs to be addressed?
- What is the leadership team willing to do to improve the culture of the organization?
- Is there mentoring available, and not just for those who have already received the most opportunities within the organization?
These are just some of the questions that can be asked to identify the true culture of an organization; not just their talk-track. If diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility are important to you, then it’s time to ask the hard questions.
Please let me know what answers you receive, and if you need any help interpreting them.