The challenges of implementing the DEIB program
Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) are definitely buzz words that have been around for several years.
Companies have realized the many benefits of including as diverse groups as possible in their workforce to appease, presumably, social pressures or legal demands, but even when they see how these different perspectives can benefit them in so many ways they have not imagined or previously considered.
Some companies have failed in their attempts to use their DEIB strategy for a number of reasons, including lack of commitment, lack of understanding or lack of a focused strategy.
Project management teams can be given this task and can use important concepts like intercultural ability to successfully implement such an ambitious culture change program.
3 Direct benefits of DEIB initiatives
Immediately, I can think of three direct benefits of implementing a powerful DEIB program:
From diverse cultures come a myriad of interpretations and ideas that take brainstorming sessions to a whole new level. Many previously hidden issues as well as new and innovative ways to solve organizational problems or reduce risks tend to emerge in such dynamic conditions.
For example, when developing a new global communications app, make sure you include a cross-section of people from BRICS countries to truly understand their communications preferences based on the cultural influences of infrastructure. This can include naming conventions on the menu to prevent potentially offensive language or overly complex layouts that could repel potential users.
In the world, the plague has affected different countries in different ways and some would argue that many of the emerging economies have gone through perhaps a less traumatic experience because of the economic hardships they have suffered for many years. Therefore, focused efforts to improve morale in these countries should be implemented based on a detailed review and understanding of the pain points in each case.
Even before the epidemic, most of the larger companies suffered from a steady decline in morale due to a number of reasons. When companies demonstrate commitment and openness to being inclusive, the direct impact on morale can be extremely positive at all levels of the organization.
3. Employee engagement
In some countries like Brazil, for example, employers have long been criticized for exploiting the limited access of the population to higher education as well as for overt discrimination against certain groups. As such, employees tend not to trust companies as a whole and are always skeptical when implementing new policies, plans or assessments.
As employee morale improves, so does employee involvement which certainly has a positive impact on achieving KPIs. This, in turn, will foster a positive work environment that can certainly lead to higher levels of employee retention.
What is intercultural ability and why is it important?
Intercultural skill is basically the skill of understanding other cultures in such a way that you will be able to communicate with them more effectively. The keyword here is effective because it is not simple enough to speak or use the same language.
For me, it’s a deep dive into cultures to better understand what makes people tick and how they process communication of all kinds.
When we dig deep into these cultures, we easily recognize:
- Political, socio-economic and religious filters
- Historical oppression of certain groups and its impact on their behavior
- Geopolitical relations between countries and even ethnic minorities in each country
As varied and sweeping as it sounds, there is a way to achieve intercultural ability with the right amount of learning and of course, open thinking.
From my long experience as a career exile in the oil and gas industry, I have seen how companies have failed on this important issue, even for cultures that were not so different from that of the Houston home office.
Our world that is already connected to the international has become so interdependent today that companies can no longer ignore this issue because they risk a serious setback that could have catastrophic consequences when damage control has to be implemented due to an “international incident”.
Project management teams typically consist of cross-functional and multicultural teams and are an excellent choice to educate companies on cultural issues while providing feedback from lessons learned sessions in which these issues have been identified, exiled and used as assets for future projects.
Using intercultural talent to attract and retain leading talent
The great resignation of 2021 came down on the United States in such a boom that it permanently changed the dynamics of employee-employer. Companies struggle to replace lost talent as well as maintain their greatest performance.
I can see how companies can bridge this gap and move towards a more sustainable talent conservation index by implementing DEIB programs with appropriate cross-cultural training.
This needs to be done from the top down so that people from all cultures, generations, ethnicities, the disabled and gender (to name a few) can see that senior management truly understands the difficulties they face both in life and in the workplace, and is committed to creating a more harmonious and inclusive space.
When these biases are removed from the recruitment and promotion processes, the message is clear that opportunities will be available to everyone, based on the set of skills and performance as well as other non-discriminatory factors.
In other parts of the world, the great resignation has not occurred and not to the same extent as we see in the US. Such countries offer much higher levels of employee protection, sometimes at the behest of multinational companies in the US.
From a project management perspective, I could easily see how a dedicated project team could map the current workforce composition, locations where the company operates, and then define outcomes aimed at identifying synergies, major disconnections, as well as opportunities to streamline the DEIB initiative. Once this is done, the training programs can be developed with human resources at the forefront of the initiative.
How to use intercultural competence as part of the DEIB strategy
When I was working on a project in Brazil, we urgently needed four technicians to service valves at a facility at sea. The vice president of project management located the technicians in record time and went on to confirm that everyone spoke Spanish so “we were good”. Clearly he could have benefited with a better cultural knowledge of Brazil.
I could certainly name many examples, but the point is that many corporations (in the US at least) have never grasped the fundamental importance of truly connecting their senior executives with their teams in other countries, let alone the diversity they have right at home!
So how do you get these executives to speed?
Intercultural training across business functions is a mandatory requirement for middle- to senior-level executives working in multinational corporations, and it should clearly be tailored to the circumstances whether the manager will be deployed as an outsider or not.
Need champions too!
The top-down approach will then require champions at all levels of the organization, as with any significant cultural change project that will require successful implementation.
So how long will it take?
Due to the size of the corporation, its geographical footprint, as well as the complexity and variety of cultural issues to be covered, may well take several years to fully implement the DEIB initiative.
Companies can certainly leverage social media to help shorten the implementation cycle, as long as they are aware of the generational preferences of each of the platforms to reach as many of their people as possible.
Other intergenerational communication styles (face-to-face, e-mail, messaging, etc.) can also be used to speed up the process.
DEIB should be a carefully managed top-down strategy
For companies to survive in an increasingly challenging and complex world, a strategy of diversity, equality and inclusion well implemented at all levels of the organization will be key. Companies can not forget to apply multicultural filters to this strategy so that global assimilation is possible, especially when taking into account the higher number of people working remotely around the world.
Companies may choose to implement the plan gradually over time to minimize the impact on budgets while ensuring that they communicate effectively with the growing workforce.
Leveraging project management resources will definitely drive the initiative in a focused way.
Business executives can certainly fully support the initiative as well as play an active role by using techniques such as intercultural capabilities to hone their skills and maintain their relevance as key influencers for whom the diverse workplace will want to work.
Whatever the case, social media will definitely provide quality testing to companies, so a solid social media strategy will be essential for long-term business continuity.
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