Being a diverse and inclusive organization is so important in today’s day and age. Sentinel, like so many others, has recently taken a more intentional, proactive and hopefully impactful approach to our DEI efforts. We understand that this is an ongoing journey and while we have a lot of work ahead of us, we wanted to share some of our findings, thanks largely to conversations we’ve had with DEI experts.

1. Given everything that’s going on in the world, how should a business respond to various social events and issues taking place?

Our culture is one of instant gratification and there’s an underlying urge to be the first one to respond. We all—businesses included—should take a moment and really question how we feel about what's going on in the world, because we can only make that first statement once. Allowing yourself to understand how you feel is a great first step as an organization in helping you decide how to respond.

2. What are unconscious biases and micro aggressions and how are they connected?

Unconscious bias is the involuntary way your brain makes connections about things—or people. It actually happens in the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system. In real life it’s basically that gut feeling you have when you use bias to help make a decision. Unconscious bias is sometimes a gut feeling. Sometimes it's socialized, sometimes it comes from our community. There are lots of ways to get quick ideas about people, but just know it's part of being human to make quick judgments. And it's something we have to be aware of so we can always work to think beyond that first gut feeling. This is when we check our biases and actually learn a little more so that we know the decisions we're making are based on real humans in their own personalities, their own actions, and their own behaviors.

Micro aggressions are a hot topic right now. Oftentimes, a micro aggression is an insult to the person on the receiving end, and yet the speaker may be unaware that they even potentially offended the other party. When generalizations or stereotypes are stated over and over, or people repetitively do things to invalidate others, this can create a lot of trauma for the targets. Sometimes the words we use can unknowingly leave scars. And it's something to be conscious of if we want to not just survive, but thrive as organizations where everybody can bring their authentic self into a space and feel protected and feel like they belong.

3. If companies get things wrong, how do they make them right?

It's really OK to apologize. It's really OK to say, “I'm sorry, I didn't know.” But understand, when you apologize, apologize just once, make it heartfelt the first time, and then turn it around and make it about the other person. Empathize. “I can imagine that feels good.” Show them that you can understand that it wasn't a positive experience for them. And finally, you should accept responsibility. “Thank you for letting me know that because I don't want to do it again to somebody else.” If someone educates you, receive it as a gift and be willing to say, “I had no idea and I'm going to do better.” Don't defend yourself. Just take the time to continue to learn, because we're all a work in progress and everybody makes mistakes.

4. How do employers foster an open communicative environment for employees to feel comfortable to speak?

The first thing we have to do is be preemptive, not responsive. Look at your company’s charter or values. Do you have things like respect, empathy, candor, the ability to be candid? Another thing to do is just recognize that when someone makes a mistake and has good intent, that there is still possibly a negative impact. Also, foster a space where people can talk about their lived experiences without interruption. Consciously and intentionally, create a space for mistakes and learning. If you make a mistake, own up on it, and then try to figure out what you can do to make sure you get it right the next time. And the last thing is to empower your employees to receive feedback with grace and humility.

5. A lot of companies seem to be putting more effort into being more proactive about their DEI efforts. How do organizations create intentional and impactful programs?

Simple isn't always easy, but it’s important to begin by starting those tough conversations in your small organizational groups, in your communities and your councils. You have to be willing to say, “I wasn't aware of that” and learn together. Also, encourage managers to check in on their teams when big and important things happen in society, and especially when they impact a certain demographic. You don't have to share an opinion, but just check in with your people. Despite some discomfort, saying something is absolutely better than saying nothing. Be willing to hear the good, the bad and the ugly so you can work with truth. Last but not least, just know, there's no quick fix. If you really want to create a culture of belonging, it is not a sprint, it's a marathon; take your time and do it right. Get a little help if you need it, and let your people know that you mean it from the heart and that you're trying to do it right. That makes all the difference in the world.

6. Does everything need to be labeled DEI?

Right now, there's a lot going on about what diversity is and what diversity isn't. But at the end of the day, the goal of a DEI program is to create an organization that fosters a sense of belonging for all that are represented in your company. It's about making sure everybody can be their authentic self and speak up when they don't feel safe, when they don't feel respected, and when their experiences don't feel honored. You can do that in all kinds of ways with employee engagement. You can do that through great coaching and mentoring, giving excellent performance feedback. It doesn’t always have to have a DEI label, and especially if you make it a part of your culture.

7. Is diversity tied to visible attributes like age, gender and race?

Diversity has two parts. One is that representation matters and excluding someone for how they look, how they live, how they learn, how they love is the exact opposite of diversity. Diversity is about embracing all differences, whatever they are: race, gender, and age, but also religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, language, disability, etc. It's so much more than skin deep. It's about all of those things in our identity that allow us to be our authentic self. That's when diversity wins.

It’s important to note that diversity is not the same thing as affirmative action. Affirmative action helps foster diversity, but it isn’t diversity. Diversity is about seeing people for who they are and just appreciating them for who they are. And when we partner that with creating spaces where people feel welcome, regardless of who they are, then we get belonging and belonging means we take better care of each other's teams. We take better care of our clients. We take better care of our community partners. Everybody just wants to feel valued and seen without embarrassment, without shame.

8. How can you recruit a diverse workforce?

First, decide who exactly will make a good fit. Making sure that you’re not dismissing someone because they didn't go to the right school or because they're overweight or they don't speak similarly because they're from another part of the country. Look at what they have to offer and look in different places. Most importantly, just make sure you're not just looking for you.

9. How do we get started?

Your DEI exploratory committee needs to be sponsored by leadership. If this message isn't coming from the top down, people will notice. And the second is, don't assign the work to anyone. Invite, invite, invite. There are so many people who want to be a part of positive change. Give them the opportunity to contribute.

10. What if not everyone is ready to embrace DEI efforts?

There shouldn’t be any shame. It might take some time, but just know that most people simply want to be good people. Beliefs may change as actions change. The thoughts and the feelings don't have to come first to set the expectation for how we treat one another. They'll come along or they won't.

As noted above, this is a marathon and not a sprint. Take the time to decide who you are as a company and what you support as an organization. Hopefully, by reading this, you’re already invested in making your business more diverse and inclusive. Have the tough conversations and do the work. It’ll pay off. As always, contact us with any questions! We’re happy to recommend some external DEI consultants to help you get the conversation started. 
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