Joanne Dias is a senior faculty member of the Center for Creative Leadership Global Markets group, where she designs and delivers customized leadership programs for leaders within global organizations. Joanne has developed and launched assessment and development centers in 12+ countries and facilitated organizational change initiatives and trainings for individuals, cross-functional and executive teams.

Q: Why are diversity, inclusion and equity important to business?

Research shows that a diverse work environment contributes to greater innovation, creativity and better business outcomes. The coming together of people with different ethnicities, and different lived and learned experiences in organizations is a key driver of innovation. However, organizations often hire diverse talent, but don’t take the necessary steps needed to ensure that their environment is inclusive and equitable. By the year 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be made up of millennials, which means they will occupy the majority of the leadership roles over the coming decade, and 74% of millennials believe their organization is more innovative when it has a culture of inclusion. Organizations will need to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in order to ensure they are maintaining a culture that the workforce will want to join.

Joanne Dias

Q: What tips would you give startup founders to ensure that DEI are embedded in their company culture?

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) needs to be woven into the business strategy and the goals of every function within the organization. People aim for the targets they are given, and if the business targets don’t encompass the cultural values and behaviors you would like to see in your organization, then you will end up with a company culture that might be very far from being a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment.

The first step is ensuring that the environment is psychologically safe enough for people to broach conversations about DEI. One way to begin building a psychologically safe environment is for leaders to intentionally create space for conversations about topics that are viewed as “difficult,” such as stories about failure or conversations about race, with the leader going first to demonstrate vulnerability.

Q: When hiring, how should companies approach interviews and candidates to maintain a culture of diversity and inclusion?

Any selection committee needs to be made up of diverse employees, which means employees who reflect the community of both the organization and the customer base. Ensuring that members of selection committees are able to review the job descriptions will help eliminate potential group think.

Another method of maintaining a culture of DEI is avoiding asking candidates what their salary was in previous roles. Paying people based on what they made in previous roles can continue a cycle of discrimination and inequity. As Daniel Pink noted in his book Drive, "the best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table." Ensuring that employees are paid what the job is worth will help to eliminate potential challenges such as pay inequity.

Q: Is there anything that employees can do to tackle inequality and put pressure on their company to become more diverse and inclusive?

There is plenty that employees can do to tackle inequality within their own organizations. Speaking up and voicing concerns or asking questions about practices that create inequalities will help to surface issues that may not have been on the radar of leadership. However, it is equally important to try to identify solutions that might address the problem. Oftentimes I hear from leaders that they’ve been presented with multiple issues that they weren’t aware existed within the organization, and they’re struggling with identifying how to move things forward amidst competing priorities. This can often result in fast actions (reactions) that can feel performative in nature, versus truly creating a long-term, intentional change. An example of this is changing the company logo to rainbow colors for Pride month (performative if done in isolation) versus changing policies that might otherwise negatively impact employees who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community (parental leave policies for example). Approaching a problem from a collaborative mindset might help gain buy in from leadership which will help move things forward.

Q: How has DEI in the workplace changed in the past ten years?

Leveraging the diversity that exists in the world has taken different forms over the past decade or so. Many companies focused heavily on gender diversity in the early 2000’s (though gender parity remains a broad concern across industries) and then in the 2010’s we saw a shift from physical differences to cultural differences. Employers are recognizing that having a diverse workforce has significant benefits, not the least of which is greater innovation and productivity. Perhaps the greatest and latest shift in the workplace with regard to DEI is the growing popularity of remote work opportunities. Given the restrictions placed on social gathering due to the pandemic, the opportunities for remote work also generate greater flexibility for employers and employees to pursue opportunities that are not limited to physical location or by ability. Research conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) tell us that there are 1 billion people in the world with disabilities and that 80% are of working age. By accounting for disabilities in their diversity programs, employers were now able to widen their talent pool by a considerable margin.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add about fostering DEI?

The time factor. Unlike problems that can be quickly solved, DEI and culture change takes time. Oftentimes people start an organizational DEI journey in a blaze of passion and energy, without fully understanding the scope of what they’re trying to address. It’s a marathon. Which means that it can take many months, if not years, to best understand the nuances and complexity of the current situation as well as to build clarity around the desired end state, before organizations begin recognizing and experiencing the types of transformational change many of these DEI strategies seek to achieve. However, this longer time horizon should not discourage action. The long-term and authentic change we seek starts today by implementing our efforts to tackle inequality, and pressuring companies to become more diverse and inclusive in their practices and policies.