Valuing Each Other Through DEI

June 25, 2024
By Suzanne Weston

From a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) perspective, the environment is reminiscent of the dissonance of the 1960s, when people filled streets to advocate for civil rights and express discontent with exclusionary practices.

This activism was one of the centerpieces of the civil rights movement, heightening calls for inclusivity to remove bias and discrimination from the workplace.

Prompted by the race riots in Detroit in 1967, General Motors established the first supplier diversity program. This was followed by the 1969 executive order issued by President Richard Nixon encouraging the federal government to “contribute to the establishment, preservation and strengthening of minority business enterprise.” The intent was to promote the growth of minority owned businesses “through the mobilization and advancement of public and private sector programs, policy, and research.”

These programs focused on job creation, as the first step for the economic advancement of marginalized communities and underrepresented groups. They highlighted imbalance and inequality and led to the development of inclusive business practices. By focusing on specific groups, DEI was designed to close gaps by eliminating systemic bias. This was thought to be the first step for creating a DEI culture.

We Can’t Exist in a Vacuum

Creating a culture of inclusion takes intentionality and effort. It requires that people keep an open mind and create a respectful environment where all views and voices are valued. Inclusion exists on different levels — community, corporate and social. While they intersect, they are all different. Simply bringing diverse people together does not create a harmonious group.

People tend to be more comfortable surrounded by people who look like them. For those raised in an insular environment, who grew up without contact and heard myths or negative stereotypes, there can be a reluctance to interact with folks who are different. Initial impressions can be changed over time through interactions, conversations that occur naturally when they connect on a personal level and discover common interests. The happens slowly, changing a relationship from strangers to acquaintances, a shift that erases differences.

For companies to create a culture of inclusion and belonging, they need to do more than assemble a diverse workforce. Organizations build inclusion by changing behaviors, eliminating unconscious bias through awareness, and creating opportunities for positive interactions. Belonging requires each participant to respectfully appreciate different perspectives, these interactions can help the company generating innovation, reducing risk and improving processes because of the group’s broader perspective.

Workplace interactions are important for building a culture that encourages sharing different views and opinions. Companies that successfully build inclusive workplaces can attract and retain the best and brightest diverse pool of candidates. DEI policies and practices remove bias from the hiring and interviewing processes, and create a culture where employees feel comfortable. Similarly, supplier diversity programs provide fair competition that encourages small and minority-, women- and veteran-owned companies to compete for contract opportunities.

The Value of Diversity

DEI programs create environments that bring people with different backgrounds together. Diverse groups have been found to be more comfortable questioning assumptions. As a result, their group thinking tends to focus on facts, which makes decision-making more objective.

Diversity removes the awkwardness of being different and the fear of standing out by going against the group. It has been shown that in business, diverse groups generate different approaches, make better decisions, reduce risk and increase revenue.

Business benefit from having inclusive, diverse work groups. Creating them requires changing cultural norms and promoting open, honest and non-judgmental sharing of ideas. Participants need to keep their internal bias in check. This allows them to view all people as equals, able to offer valid but varied viewpoints, and objectively discuss the facts.

Creating Inclusion

DEI creates a sense of belonging and a community where colleagues can be themselves, an environment that values differences as the route toward progress. Supplier diversity programs introduce smaller, diverse firms that can different perspectives on processes that can drive efficiencies, while workplace diversity creates connections, which result in different approaches.

A diverse supplier base and workforce can drive the economic growth of these communities. At the same time, introducing different perspectives improves bottom line performance, customer service and employee retention for the company.

We have a long way to go to reach equity. Progress has been slow but steady.

Creating inclusion requires reprograming how we treat others, continually surrounding ourselves by people different from ourselves. It means valuing each other, showing unconditional respect, and understanding differences while connecting because of similarities. This change in perspective allows for different views, experiences and ideas, where individuality is valued.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Pranithan Chorruangsak)

About the Author

Suzanne Weston

About the Author

Suzanne Weston is a former partner, program strategies at IW Consulting Group, specializing in supplier diversity program creation, innovation and management. She is passionate about building impactful second-tier programs.