Jill Nowacki

3 DEI challenges

Cultural competence, strategic priority, and unidimensional framework among the obstacles organizations face.

October 23, 2020

The failure rate of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts is high because many organizations encounter challenges that create barriers to rolling out strategies for a more inclusive workplace.

“Key leaders in an organization may bring DEI forward with tremendous enthusiasm and a desire to see fast change,” says Jill Nowacki, president/CEO of Humanidei. “But a strong DEI champion will understand the value of working on the front end to continue to cultivate that enthusiasm while also making sure they’re developing cultural competency that moves these strategies forward through effective change management.”

During a breakout session at the CUNA HR & Organizational Development Council Virtual Conference Collection, Nowacki explored three common challenges credit unions face when rolling out DEI efforts:

1. Cultural competence, or the organization’s readiness to provide an inclusive workplace. Organizations that have cultural competence are places where people feel safe having vulnerable conversations, can admit what they don’t know, or can assess personal awareness and explore unconscious bias, Nowacki says.

Organizations that lack cultural competence have a “significant us-versus-them” feeling, reject training or conversations that are designed to advance DEI, and sometimes see reverse discrimination claims emerge. Some people believe inclusion is a zero-sum game and for someone to be invited to the table, someone else must give up their seat, Nowacki says.

Gather feedback from employees—through focus groups or surveys—to gauge the level of cultural competence at your workplace, Nowacki advises. This will save time and effort, and get the organization on track to achieve cultural competence.

“Populations that are marginalized or underrepresented historically don’t have their voices heard,” she says. “Assess what’s going on in your organization before you launch your DEI efforts. This will allow you to identify areas where you can make changes and enrich the employee experience.”

2. Level of strategic priority. Consider your strategic priorities and how they’re treated. Set goals and timelines, and hold employees accountable.

Many DEI strategies are delegated to committees that meet occasionally and whose members are qualified based on their heart rather than their skills, experience, or education; that don’t have a budget for action, training, or development; and whose leaders don’t have the authority to act and make changes, Nowacki says.

“One way to measure or ensure the level of strategic priority is to assign an executive champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Nowacki says. Consider assigning the champion role to the board, CEO, or a C-suite level executive.

3. Unidimensional framework. This framework occurs when organizations try to create programs that focus on one group, such as women or Black employees.

“Rather than looking at DEI through the lens of building a more inclusive organization and recognizing we have many employees with different dimensions, we build one-off programs that can create ‘us-versus-them' thinking and a feeling that the DEI work isn’t for them,” Nowacki says.

When leaders create resources inclusively and allow allies to opt in, it creates an environment where everyone recognizes they benefit from inclusion and it’s something they all are a part of, Nowacki says.

In a multidimensional framework, everyone—including those in the dominant group—begins to see how DEI can add value to their experience.

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