In response to major cultural events, organizations often schedule speaking engagements with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) leaders, organize mandatory company-wide educational classes, and inevitably promise to continue to “do the work” and coordinate future DEI courses. However, after the one-time instructional course or speaking engagement, plans to ostensibly transform company culture tapers off, with many feeling as though these programs made a difference and that employees were sufficiently educated.
As you can imagine, one-off training sessions are ineffective in addressing institutional issues that go well beyond shortcomings within individual workplaces or organizations.
After decades of research and implementation, DEI consultant Lily Zheng has learned that it takes time and commitment to “do DEI right.”
Zheng provides companies with ad hoc advising, and leadership training, as well as discovery, strategy, structure, and culture consulting. They also provide inspirational speaking engagements on topics such as “Bias-Aware Leadership: Tips and Tools for Managing Unconscious Bias,” “Effective Allyship: Turning Good Intentions into Systemic Change,” and “Away from Purity: Centering Imperfection and Impact.” Zheng has also authored two books: “Gender Ambiguity in the Workplace,” which explores the discrimination “gender-diverse people face,” and “The Ethical Sellout,” which discusses making compromises while maintaining integrity.
Zheng offers a unique approach to implementing DEI protocols and strategies. Because every company has different goals and issues in need of solving, they believe every solution should be customized.
“Every service I provide, from strategy consulting to executive coaching to DEI education, is designed to take my client’s unique situation into account in creating a high-impact end product,” Zheng writes on their website. “No two talks, strategy discussions, or coaching sessions ever look the same, even for my repeat clients with which I’ve worked for years.”
While every company requires personalized solutions, Zheng offers general advice every business should follow when hiring and training employees.
In an article titled “A Step-by-Step Guide to Transform Diversity & Inclusion into Anti-Racism,” Zheng provides five ways executives can “dig deeper” to create an anti-racist company after a moment of crisis.
The first step: Stay away from one-time actions as these are crisis control tactics, not long-term solutions. Although such actions may be an essential first step, they should be used as a jumping off point for further education and understanding.
The second step: Create a team to guide and implement long-term change and DEI efforts. Ensure the group is a mix of senior leaders, lower-level employees, and external consultants.
The third step: Create a shared vision of what an anti-racist workplace looks like. Zheng offers questions such as “In an anti-racist future, what should the experiences of people of color be in this company?” and “What isn’t happening now in this company that needs to happen?”
The fourth step: Implement a strategic plan. This can include creating DEI positions, funding new initiatives, writing a new DEI policy, and more.
The fifth step: Do the anti-racist work. These actions shouldn’t fall by the wayside. Employees and leaders should continue to make strides toward their dedicated plan and goals.
In an article for Harvard Business Review, Zheng addresses reasons why employees typically don’t feel safe reporting discrimination or abuse.
“Studies consistently found that the primary reason for low reporting rates is retaliation, where employers or individuals respond to reports of discrimination or mistreatment by further punishing or marginalizing the victim,” they write.
To address this problem, Zheng offers four basic solutions:
- Company leaders must make a public commitment to develop better reporting processes.
- Bring in an external resource such as a private therapist or Employee Assistance Program to “support victims of harassment and discrimination.”
- Provide an off-record resource to provide guidance to employees considering reporting.
- Design an anonymous reporting channel to protect reporters.
It’s especially important employers implement policies to protect nonconforming employees because “the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that one-in-six respondents who had ever been employed reported being fired, denied a promotion, harassed, or attacked because of their gender identity or expression,” writes Zheng in their article titled “Transgender, Gender-Fluid, Nonbinary, and Gender-Nonconforming Employees Deserve Better Policies.”
They offer several changes to policy including:
- Avoiding the collection of gender information unless necessary
- Asking colleague pronouns before assuming
- Using the pronouns your colleagues ask you to use
- Enabling individuals to self-identify beyond binary “man” and “woman”
- Creating gender-inclusive bathrooms
- De-gendering dress code policies
- Examining the hiring practices
- Making transition policies flexible
“It’s clear that it’s not sufficient for companies to be well intentioned when it comes to creating and enforcing inclusive policies,” Zheng writes. “In order to actually support employees of all gender identities and expressions, company leaders will have to take a different approach that balances flexibility, privacy, and access.”